DALLAS — Most Democrats who flipped House seats in 2018 have steered clear of the tumultuous presidential race. Texas Rep. Colin Allred is not one of them.
“Why are we here for Joe Biden? Because we recognize that we have a tradition in Texas of electing pragmatic progressives who get things done,” Allred told more than a dozen supporters of the former vice president Saturday here at the Oak Cliff Sub-Courthouse.
The group had gathered on a brisk, sunny morning to mark the first weekend of early voting in Texas ahead of the March 3 primary. Two other Texas Democratic lawmakers — Marc Veasey and Eddie Bernice Johnson — also spoke.
But Allred is the only one facing a competitive race in November.
He’s one of 42 lawmakers in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline program for vulnerable incumbents. So far, just 16 of them have endorsed candidates for president. Eight are backing Biden, while five have gotten behind former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
That overall hesitation to make an endorsement underscores how battleground candidates are trying to avoid taking sides in the sometimes bitter battle for the Democratic nomination. Allred, however, decided that the right nominee would help Democrats hold on to their hard-won House majority.
Allred initially endorsed a fellow Texan, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro. Allred had previously worked for Castro at HUD and considers him a friend. Then, 10 days after Castro dropped out of the race, Allred endorsed Biden.
As co-president of the freshman class, Allred has been encouraging his fellow Democrats to weigh in on the primary.
“I’ve tried to explain to my colleagues how important their voice is, as the newly elected from the toughest districts, to make sure people know not only that this is how we win, this is how we go national too,” he said.
Allred addressed the group of Biden supporters in Dallas just a few hours before Sen. Bernie Sanders was declared the winner of the Nevada caucuses, putting the Vermont independent one step closer to winning the Democratic nomination.
Allred declined to answer directly whether he would support Sanders if he becomes the party’s standard-bearer.
“I want to make Joe Biden the nominee, and that’s what I’m working to do,” he said.
That included traveling to Iowa before the Feb. 3 caucuses with a handful of other vulnerable freshmen. He said he’ll be active ahead of the Texas primary as well, going to churches to remind people to vote and encouraging his own campaign volunteers to support Biden.
Allred may not top the list of Republican targets in 2020 since his 32nd District did not support President Donald Trump in 2016. But his race is still expected to be competitive.
While Hillary Clinton carried Allred’s district, which includes affluent areas of North Dallas and nearby suburbs, she won by less than 2 points. Two years later, Allred unseated Republican incumbent Pete Sessions by 7 points. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates his race this year Leans Democratic.
Allred is among the freshmen whom Democrats need to protect to keep control of the House. Some Democrats believe that majority could be at risk if the party nominates a presidential candidate considered too liberal for the moderate independent and Republican voters who voted blue in 2018 in competitive House districts.
“There’s concern about Bernie, in particular, being on the top of the ballot,” Veasey said.
Republicans are eager to tie vulnerable freshmen to Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, and have already been hanging the “socialist” label on Democrats running this year. Allred did not seem concerned about that though.
“I was born and raised in my district, and I don’t think anybody here thinks that I’m a socialist,” he said.
Endorsing Biden could help Allred and other vulnerable freshmen distance themselves from Sanders. One of Allred’s constituents wasn’t wild about his decision to back Biden, but saw it as a safe decision that could help the congressman win reelection.
“You don’t want to rock the boat,” said Norman, a 56-year-old engineer from Dallas who declined to give his last name. He volunteered for Allred’s 2018 race but cast his vote Sunday for former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, an early voting location.
Allred’s potential Republican opponents had mixed responses to his decision to endorse Biden.
“He can endorse whoever he wants to, based on how he feels,” said Floyd McLendon, a retired Navy SEAL running in the GOP primary, who was greeting voters at the church polling place Sunday. “I really don’t have any feelings about it.”
Another Republican challenger, businesswoman Genevieve Collins, was greeting voters at the same polling place. She said Allred’s decision to endorse Castro and then Biden was going “from one extreme to another.”
“Colin is trying to tread lightly and be a moderate. However, his voting record shows he is very radical,” Collins said, citing Allred’s vote to impeach Trump and his votes in line with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In Congress, Allred hasn’t broken much with leadership, supporting his party’s priorities 97 percent of the time last year, according to CQ Vote Watch.
Asked if she believed Allred is a socialist himself, Collins said, “We’ll continue to find out.”
But Allred has stressed working across the aisle. He visited the White House to attend an event on paid family leave, and Trump made a reference to Allred’s family leave bill in his State of the Union address, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Allred was confident about his reelection prospects, saying his “army of volunteers” was once again engaged.
“My approach has always been neighbor to neighbor, Texan to Texan. We go everywhere. We talk to everyone,” he said. “That’s what we did in 2018. That’s what we’re going to do in 2020.”