Pandemic politics ripple through Texas races, forcing U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw to defend his coronavirus response

The coronavirus pandemic — and incumbents’ response to it — is rippling through almost every competitive race in Texas right now, from U.S Sen. John Cornyn’s reelection bid to the multitude of contests that will decide control of the Texas House.

But in one congressional race, the fight has become particularly pitched, drawing in dozens of Houston-area doctors and putting a high-profile incumbent on the defensive.

Democrat Sima Ladjevardian has wielded the issue doggedly against Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, who is increasingly pushing back amid a storm of claims that he has not taken the pandemic seriously enough and undermined public health.

“I just absolutely think he’s been failing his constituents," Ladjevardian said in an interview. "An elected official is responsible to give facts, set an example and help the community. ... I think people are hurting, we need elected officials to really be the role models they need to be, and he absolutely has not done that."

Like many other Texas Republicans, Crenshaw has been more focused on weighing the pandemic against its economic toll, while accusing Democrats and the media of exaggerating its impact. And like other Texas Republicans, he has not always worn a mask in settings where they are advised — or required under Gov. Greg Abbott's statewide mask order.

Crenshaw's campaign brushes off the idea that he as not taken the pandemic seriously, noting in a statement for this story that he has distributed 50,000 masks in Houston and pushed for the extension of federal funding for testing sites in the city.

"Dan Crenshaw's leadership throughout this pandemic speaks for itself," Crenshaw campaign spokesperson Justin Discigil said. "While his opponent has spent her time tweeting from behind the walls of her mansion during this pandemic, Dan has been working tirelessly to help his community."

Crenshaw and his campaign appear to be increasing their efforts to defend his record on the pandemic. Late last month, his campaign sent out a mailer seeking to debunk three lines of criticism from Ladjevardian regarding his coronavirus response.