Lillian Salerno announced Tuesday that she is jumping into the field of Democrats hoping to take on Texas GOP Rep. Pete Sessions, as Sessions emphasizes that he is definitely running for re-election.
Democrats are targeting the district that includes northern Dallas, which Hillary Clinton narrowly won in November. In 2016, Sessions did not have a Democratic opponent. But Salerno, who worked in the Obama administration, is joining an already crowded field of Democrats who will face off in a March 6 primary.
“We need to win this seat to take back the House,” Salerno said in an interview.
Salerno served as deputy undersecretary for rural development at the Agriculture Department. She also has a background in small business, and launched a company that designed a retractable syringe, which was useful when health care workers were treating those affected by HIV/AIDS. She said fighting to bring the product to market, and seeing the odds stacked against small business, spurred her to become involved in politics.
Salerno said people in the district, especially women, encouraged her to run for Congress. She said the “final straw” was when Republicans moved forward with their plan to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act.
A number of Democrats are already running in the district, but Salerno plans to emphasize her experience to set herself apart. She joins a number of Obama administration alumni running for Congress across the country, including in this district.
She told the Dallas Morning News that her Democratic opponents are “wet behind the ears.” She faces a crowded Democratic field that includes former NFL player Colin Allred, who also worked in the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Obama, and former State Department and Clinton campaign staffer Ed Meier.
Clinton won the 32nd District by 2 points in November, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Likely Republican.
Salerno said she would be able to appeal to Republican and Independent voters in the district.
“My father’s a Republican. My family, a lot of them are Republicans. I have independents in my family. I am somebody who can talk and can speak to Independent voters,” Salerno said. “They’re not happy with Sessions either.”
On Tuesday the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added Sessions to its “retirement watch” list following recent GOP retirements that could expand the Democratic opportunities. But Sessions quickly quashed any speculation that he would step down.
“Honored to represent #TX32. To my friends who think I’m hanging it up, as we say in #TX, Come and Take It,” his campaign account tweeted Tuesday. “Rumors are completely false.”
Salerno had no doubt that Sessions would wage a tough campaign.
“I stood up to bullies like Congressman Sessions before and I totally believe he will run and he will be rough,” she said. But she said she’s ready for a fight.