Greg Sagan for Congress 2018The Loneliest Democrat in America
AMARILLO, TEXAS—The Democratic candidate for Congress in the most Republican congressional district in America does not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Ever. Nor does he wear an American flag lapel pin. Ever. He prefers a small golden pin of the Constitution, etched with the phrase “We The People.” “I don’t have to pledge my allegiance. I’m a Vietnam vet. I’ve already demonstrated it,” he says. “None of these symbols of America mean anything to me any more.”
Greg Sagan is 70 years old. He has the swept-back gray hair and assured, learned manner of a former corporate consultant, which he is. When he campaigns he wears a navy blue suit jacket and a blue name tag that reads: “Greg Sagan. Democrat for U.S. House. District 13.” Even though he had a column in the local newspaper for 14 years, he needs the name tag, because he hasn’t run any television ads. He hasn’t put up any billboards. His opponent, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, has raised $1.1 million, and Sagan has raised a little over $20,000. He’s spent most of that money driving around the district for the past year, holding town halls, asking people what they want. His driver is his wife Dianne, who is also his campaign manager. The fact that he is, statistically, the Democrat with the biggest uphill battle in the nation does not appear to bother him a bit.
We’re sitting in a red upholstered booth in a Denny’s in late September, just off I-40 in east Amarillo, TX. We’re in the middle of Texas’ 13th Congressional District, rated as +33 points Republican, which makes it the reddest district you will find anywhere in our 50 states. Beginning just outside of Dallas, TX-13 stretches northwest to encompass the entire 40,000 square miles of the Texas panhandle. It would take you six hours to drive it end to end. The district is home to Wichita Falls, and a lot of little dot-on-the-map towns, and a whole lot of prairie. Mostly, it is home to Amarillo. ...
Sagan had never thought of going into politics before. He is not exactly the activist type. He has the sort of strong but silent moral code that builds up in families that serve in the military for generation after generation. “The people I feel an affinity for are people like me who, out of the best intentions, went off to a terrible war, did their best in that war, and came off feeling guilty about it,” he says. His entire career path—military, strategic consulting, economics—has led him to value precision, competency, and dependability. It is not hard to see how a man like Donald Trump offends virtually every sensibility that he possesses. “There’s been nobody more dangerous in the White House in my lifetime,” he says. “And the Republican Party, as I feared they would, turned into a bunch of facilitators of his conduct.”
Sagan more or less unilaterally decided to run for Congress, informed the state Democratic Party, and was essentially told: great, good luck. Neither the state nor the national party are giving him money. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has offered nothing. The most outside support he’s gotten was from Joe Biden, who wished him well. This laissez-faire approach by the party is just fine with Sagan. He has a plan. He is ceding the political money and advertising fight to his opponent in favor of a grassroots (read: he and Dianne) effort to turn out the vote, by targeting young people and black people, LGBTQ people and Latinos and women and people who work hard and don’t make enough money. These are the people he sees as his base. They are not served by the Republican Party; they constitute a majority of the residents of the district; and, by and large, they do not vote. Sagan is encouraged by statewide polls that show Texans in general becoming more friendly to Democrats over the past year; but since no one has bothered to conduct real up-to-date polling in his hopelessly one-sided district, the efficacy of his bare-bones campaign strategy can only be judged when the votes are tallied.