Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff is endorsing Austin tech entrepreneur and Army veteran Joseph Kopser, a fellow Democrat, in the crowded race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, a San Antonio Republican.
A West Point graduate who served in the Army 20 years before founding a tech startup, Kopser said Sunday he was grateful for Wolff’s endorsement. He praised Wolff for his decades of public service in his past roles as San Antonio’s mayor, state representative, and state senator, and, since 2001, as county judge.
"I'm so proud for him to be endorsing us," Kopser said in a telephone interview Sunday. "He brings that validation that public service matters."
Kopser said Wolff’s influence and leadership will help draw donors and voters in Bexar County – especially important for a first-time candidate in a race that has attracted at least three other Democrats and 16 Republicans, according to Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan online encyclopedia of elections and politics.
Other candidates for the District 21 seat include Republicans Chip Roy, a former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas); State Rep. Jason Isaac of Dripping Springs; and Jenifer Sarver of Austin, a communications strategist who previously worked for former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas); and Democrat Elliott McFadden, the CEO of Austin B-cycle and former executive director of the Travis County Democratic Party.
“People are busy in their lives and look to leaders like Judge Wolff to say, ‘Who should I get behind?'" Kopser said. "That's going to make a huge difference for us."
In a telephone interview Sunday, Wolff said he met Kopser about two years ago when Kopser visited to talk about transportation issues and his RideScout app, which aggregated various transportation options – bus, taxis, rideshare services – in real time. In 2014, Kopser sold the app to Daimler AG, which owns Mercedes-Benz, said Ian Rivera, a campaign spokesman, and now serves as president of Grayline Group.
Wolff said he later learned about Kopser’s extensive military service record. “He did tremendous service for the country,” said Wolff, adding that he and Kopser “kept up a line of communication” after that.
Kopser graduated from West Point in 1993 and from Army Ranger school a year later, serving in Iraq twice, including a 14-month stint in 2005-2006, Rivera said. His first trip to Iraq was in 2004 to help with the Iraqi elections. Kopser also spent two years at the Pentagon as an assistant to former Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and later directed the ROTC program at the University of Texas at Austin.
"I just thought he was [someone] that would really add a new dimension to the Democratic Party in terms of having a candidate with such a strong entrepreneurial background and a military background,” Wolff said.
Asked if Kopser, an Austin resident, would face challenges attracting support in Bexar County, Wolff said he didn’t think so. He cited U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat from Austin, as someone who easily crosses county lines in terms of voter support. "We're all part of this Austin-San Antonio corridor," Wolff said.
Mark McKinnon, a former campaign advisor to President George W. Bush who earlier advised Democrats including the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards, said in an email that he thinks Democrats might have a chance to flip the District 21 seat, held by Smith since 1987.
McKinnon noted that in the 2016 election, President Donald Trump won District 21 by 52 percent – eight points less than Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate.
“So it’s certainly a winnable district for a Democrat,” wrote McKinnon, who left his work as a political strategist to become creator and co-host of The Circus, a political documentary series on the Showtime cable network.
Asked about Kopser’s lack of elected office experience, McKinnon wrote, “In the current environment, having no elected experience is not a liability, it’s an asset. And being a veteran is a huge plus. Voters are skeptical of politicians, but they love and trust members of the military.”
He added that Wolff “is a very popular political figure in the San Antonio area, so an endorsement from him will be very helpful, especially in a crowded primary field.”
McKinnon also noted that Kopser “has already demonstrated an ability to raise a lot of money, and a Wolff endorsement will help him fill up his campaign coffers.” (McKinnon noted that he has donated to Sarver’s campaign.)
Kopser said he has raised more than $600,000. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics showed that Kopser had raised more than $417,000, spent more than $198,000, and had nearly $220,000 in cash on hand at the end of the third quarter.
Rivera said Elise Boyan hosted Kopser’s first big fundraiser in San Antonio. A graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, Boyan was a “significant Democratic donor” to former President Barack Obama, he said. Boyan is married to H-E-B President and Chief Operating Officer Craig Boyan.
Other top fundraisers in San Antonio include Michael D. Beldon of Beldon Enterprises, a former chairman of the Edwards Aquifer Foundation, and Edward "Sonny" Collins, a former president of the San Antonio River Foundation, Kopser said.
Wolff will publicly announce his support of Kopser at a meet-and-greet event Monday night from 5-7 p.m. at Alamo Beer Company, Rivera said.