Black Voters Are Transforming the Suburbs — And American Politics
An influx of Black voters into suburbia holds enormous promise for Democrats, but Republicans are fighting back.
Illustration by Beth Suzanna and Photos by Patrick Cavan Brown for POLITICO
12/23/2022 04:30 AM EST
HOUSTON — Back in 2017, Jon Rosenthal, a mechanical engineer who’d been spurred into politics, like many Democrats, by Donald Trump’s election, was having drinks with a group of local party activists when one of them suggested that he run for office: Why not challenge the Republican who’d been holding onto his state House seat for more than 20 years?
Rosenthal was intrigued. And as he began considering his prospects, poring over demographic data on a laptop in his suburban Houston home, he saw an opening. People of color were exploding as a proportion of the population in the 135th state House district — Latinos, but also Black people, the Democratic Party’s most reliable voting bloc. Given the district’s rapidly increasing diversity, it made no sense to Rosenthal, who is white, that his Republican representative, Gary Elkins, who is also white, was still in power. And it seemed possible to him that a Democrat — even one who had never held elected office — could flip that seat.
With the help of Odus Evbagharu, a political strategist Rosenthal had befriended, Rosenthal began campaigning door to door, where his biggest challenge was convincing people that the district had changed enough that a Democrat could win. “There’s a perception of the suburbs that, ‘Oh, it’s all these white, affluent people,” said Evbagharu, who is Black. “So, convincing people that this race was winnable was tough.”
But where others saw obstacles, Rosenthal and Evbagharu saw opportunity. “The neighborhoods that we would send Jon to go knock doors in were predominantly Black and brown,” Evbagharu said, and Rosenthal “knocked the hell out of those doors.” In 2018, he ended up defeating Elkins by just more than 3 percentage points in a midterm election that was so good for Democrats they were convinced that years of Republica