As Pritesh Gandhi waited for his dark roast at Coffee Shark, he didn’t pull out his phone or stare silently at the walls like the other patrons did. Instead, he used the two-minute window to strike up a conversation with a man sitting at the bar.
Gandhi, who is now the clinical assistant professor of population health at Dell Medical School, said this type of impromptu conversation is what inspired him throughout his medical career and will hold the key to his challenge for the 10th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Gandhi will be running to unseat Republican Rep. Michael McCaul in 2020.
“As early as I can remember, I have been inspired by the stories of people,” Gandhi said. “After a lifetime of hearing families’ stories, I felt like now was the time to leverage the platform I have to be their voice.”
Gandhi’s fledgling campaign was announced last Tuesday and is currently focused on understanding the problems the district faces. Gandhi is running as a progressive Democrat with a platform focused on healthcare reform and poverty reduction, with issues such as expanding Medicare and access to reproductive health.
His work as a doctor and community advocate has taken him to landfill cities in India, safety net clinics in New Orleans and most recently, the People’s Community Clinic in East Austin, which provides low-cost health services to uninsured and low-income communities.
Ishav Desai, a computer sciences sophomore who lives in the 10th Congressional District, said Gandhi’s progressive ideals and decorated resume make him an appealing candidate.
“I think Gandhi is an impressive candidate, and he could motivate Austin’s Indian-American population to vote,” Desai said. “Strong Democratic candidates were able to flip districts in Texas this last election, and if Gandhi builds a similar following, he could take the district in 2020.”
Gandhi said he aims to build a grassroots network of volunteers supported by small donations, similar to the campaigns run by Beto O’Rourke and Bernie Sanders.
But Gandhi’s bid for the seat won’t be easy, said James Henson, UT government lecturer and Texas Tribune pollster.
“In the last redistricting battle in Texas, the 10th was one of five districts that was drawn with the intent of weakening the ability of Democrats in the Austin and Central Texas region to win Congressional seats,” Henson said.
Henson said the district is heavily gerrymandered, or strategically divided to dilute Democratic city votes with those from rural Republican areas.
However, Henson said an upset could be possible.
“Many races in suburban and exurban areas were closer in 2018 as a result of much higher turnout than we normally expect in midterm election years, and the 10th District was one of those,” Henson said. “While McCaul enjoys substantial advantages in experience, fundraising ability, and public profile, the comparatively close margin in 2018 almost certainly guarantees more Democratic efforts to challenge him in 2020.”
Gandhi said he has faith in his message of inclusion and people-focused politics.
“Our strategy is to talk — and listen — to every single person in this district, and I think that’s a winning strategy,” Gandhi said. “I believe in all of the stories that I have heard, and every waking moment of this campaign is going to be a reflection of those stories.