NEW BOSTON, TX (KSLA) - In a rustic, tin-roofed room at the back of the Catfish King restaurant in New Boston, Texas, Catherine Krantz unpacks a light blue suitcase. The bag, which travels with her across Northeast Texas in the trunk of a silver Toyota Prius, is filled with campaign accessories.
She removes the t-shirts, flyers, and buttons, placing them carefully on a restaurant table as a half dozen supporters begin trickling into the room. They are eager to meet Krantz, the Democratic party’s nominee for Texas’s 4th Congressional District.
“You’re wasting your time in Bowie County,” laments one of the supporters as they greet the 46-year-old candidate. “There are too many Republicans here.”
New Boston is in the heart of Bowie County, where Texas meets Arkansas, one of the 18 counties that make up the expansive district.
According to the Cook Political Report, this is the 8th most conservative congressional district in the United States. President Trump won Bowie County by almost 50 points in 2016, beating Hillary Clinton three to one, and no Democrat has run for this seat in the last two elections. It’s safe to say any candidate without the letter "R" next to their name would be the underdog in this part of the state.
But Krantz, a small-business owner and community volunteer, seems comfortable in that position as she chats with supporters over lunch. She thinks she has a fighting chance to beat Rep. John Ratcliffe, the two-term Republican incumbent.
“I know we can win because people are genuinely frustrated with a lack of economic opportunities,” says Krantz. She feels small towns are getting left behind and has built much of her campaign platform around rural issues, hoping voters will set ideological differences aside in exchange for her promise of economic prosperity.
“What’s the sacrifice of voting for someone just because they are pro-life or pro-gun?” she asks rhetorically.
Krantz is unapologetically progressive. She favors legalizing marijuana and is a supporter of a single-payer healthcare system. She says she’s been met mostly with support as she traverses this deep red swath of the Lone Star State.
“I don’t have problems with people who are conservative,” explains Krantz. “I live here. These are the people I sit next to at football games and at church. It’s not the boogeyman to me.”
But asking those voters to look past their party preference seems to be a daunting task in a sharply divided America where voters are growing more partisan.
In a new report, The Pew Research Center found President Trump’s approval ratings were more polarized along party lines than any president since Eisenhower. In a 2017 study, Pew found the partisan divide in our country has grown more than twice as large in the past 25 years.
For one pair of retirees — who eat lunch while they listen to Krantz discuss immigration with a neighboring table — this growing division is personal. The couple did not want to give their names to avoid any potential conflict with their children, who they say are devout Republicans.
“We came here to be around people with the same political views we have,” said the man when asked what motivated them to come to the event.
His wife says, apart from two grandkids, they avoid talking about politics with any family or friends. They’ve found a temporary sanctuary in the Catfish King where they can be open about their beliefs.
This is one of the countless meet-and-greets at the heart of Krantz’s frugal campaign strategy. With little cash, she is relying on these face-to-face meetings with voters and community leaders rather than political consulting and advertising.
Money’s influence in politics is a pain point for Krantz. According to the Campaign Finance Institute, the average cost to win a House race in 2016 was $1.5 million. That’s a figure Krantz calls “disgusting.”
Her campaign has only raised about $25,000. When asked whether she can be successful on such a tight budget, Krantz sighed and said, “I can’t look someone in the eye and say that it should cost more than a hundred thousand dollars to run for office.”
Krantz’s campaign coffers are dwarfed by her opponent’s, who has raised more than $800,000.
“I think my lack of finances and spending puts me closer to the voters,” says Krantz. “I think I can beat [Ratcliffe] with $25,000. You can’t buy a vote.”
The campaign hasn’t received any donations from PACs. Krantz says she won’t accept corporate PAC money and would consider any other offers on a case-by-case basis.
Instead, she’s hitting the road about four days each week seeking support from individuals. With no paid staff, she travels alone and meets volunteer campaign coordinators at each stop.
Krantz’s path to running for Congress is as winding as the roads she travels.
After growing up in a suburb of Houston, she attended the University of Texas in Austin and received dual degrees in English and fine arts. She moved to Mexico when she was 26 and started a tourism magazine and music festival in Zihuatanejo, a resort city on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
When her father died in 2014, she moved to East Texas to help run the family business, an RV park and campground. But she didn’t come with political ambition.
Krantz says her interest in the House seat piqued with Ratcliffe’s desire to defund Planned Parenthood, a service she’s used for cervical cancer screenings. In 2016, she wanted to vote him out of office, but there was no Democrat on the ballot.
“I spent the next year trying to find someone to run against him,” she says. But she never found a willing candidate that she fully supported. Without one, she felt it was up to her to jump in the race.
Krantz won the Democratic primary in March with 69 percent of the vote. Now, when voters head to the polls in November, they will have the choice that Krantz longed for two years ago.
Experts seem to think most of them will choose Ratcliffe. FiveThirtyEight, a website that uses polling and historical data to forecast election results, puts Krantz’s chance of winning at less than one percent.
Despite the fact that she really thinks she can win and is fighting to do so, that may not be what it’s all about to Krantz.
One of the last supporters to leave is another woman named Catherine.
“There’s a word in Spanish, tocaya, which means you have the same name,” Krantz — who is bilingual — tells the other Catherine as she shakes her hand.
The supporter’s face lights up as she repeats the word back to Krantz, “tocaya.”
It’s these personal connections that seem to keep Krantz going from one stop to the next.
With everyone gone, Krantz begins packing what seems to be her entire campaign apparatus back into the blue suitcase. One can’t help but wonder if it’s blue for a reason.
The suitcase will soon be back in the trunk of her Prius — which she’s put 60,000 miles on since the start of the campaign — and Krantz will be back in the driver’s seat on her way to the next little town in Northeast Texas.