On a rainy Tuesday night, voters from across North Texas filed into the Irving Arts Center to hear from Democratic candidates in the race for Texas' 24th Congressional District.
Farmer's Branch resident Barb Currier regularly votes in local and national elections. She's been studying the candidates' platforms and isn't sure who she's backing just yet, but Currier said she'll support the Democratic candidate in the general election.
"There's a lot of similarity, and I am on board on all of them," Currier said. "Health care, doing something about the guns, doing something about education, the environment, all of those issues — they're huge."
After years of Republican leadership, Texas' 24th Congressional District has emerged as a key battleground in the 2020 election. The district runs from Fort Worth to Dallas, spanning several smaller cities and Northern suburbs.
Last year, incumbent Republican Kenny Marchant announced he would not seek reelection. Marchant won reelection in 2018 by a shrinking margin. Now, North Texas Democrats see an opportunity to flip this historically red district.
Candidate Kim Olson is a retired Air Force colonel and a top fundraiser in this race. Her campaign has now raised more than $1 million. Earlier this month, they debuted a TV ad aimed at getting Olson's message out to more voters.
"Do not think for a minute the Republicans are going to give up this district easily," Olson said. "They are going to fight us tooth and nail, and we have to have record turnout vote if we want to take this district, and that's what it takes to get this done."
Candidate Jan McDowell is a familiar face in the district. She was the Democratic nominee in both 2016 and 2018, ultimately losing both races to Kenny Marchant. Speaking at the debate in Irving, McDowell said she might be the most progressive candidate in this field, but she said she knows how to appeal to moderates.
"I feel like I am the candidate of the working people in the district who want to have a voice in Washington who reflects their lives and experiences," McDowell said.
Meanwhile, former art director Sam Vega said he was the most progressive candidate in the race. Vega calls himself a democratic socialist and told voters he would fight for policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal even if they didn't gain bipartisan support.
"It is so obvious to so many people that things that things need to change, that the current system isn't working for everyone," Vega said.
Candidate John Biggan took a different approach. Referencing his training as a neuroscientist, Biggan said he would make policy decisions rooted in evidence.
"I don't worry about whether or not something is a Democratic idea or a Republican idea," Biggan said. "I just want the best one, and if you can show me the evidence, I will gladly follow along."
Candidate Candace Valenzuela, who has served on the school board for the Carrollton-Farmers Branch district, is confident she can win over young people and swing voters. Valenzuela has earned endorsements from high-profile Democrats, including Senator Elizabeth Warren.
"My campaign is rooted in my community and my love for it," Valenzuela said. "Voters can tell that about me when I talk to them, when I talk about the coalitions I've built and the people I've reached and the policies that I've pushed forth in the school board."
Candidate Richard Fleming served on the same school board as Valenzuela. Fleming said it's important for voters to think about electability, as the winner of this race will likely face off against Republican Beth Van Duyne.
Van Duyne is a former mayor of Irving who has earned an endorsement from President Donald Trump, and is widely seen as the Republican frontrunner in this congressional race.
"I've got a similar profile as her," Fleming said. "I'm a business owner. I'm a family man. I'm a man of faith, and so I think I've got the best resume. We have to send somebody that's going to be able to match her resume for resume."