By Samantha Simon
Oct 17, 2018 @ 4:30 pm
The Washington Post/Getty Images

An unprecedented number of women are chasing political office in the 2018 midterm elections. This month, we're profiling several worthy candidates who are seeking to effect change. 

When she first began volunteering for campaigns in 1996, Veronica Escobar didn't imagine that she’d ever want to go into politics herself — let alone run for office. But now, over two decades later, that’s exactly where the former county judge finds herself: as the Democratic Nominee for Congress in Texas’ 16th District.

“I never imagined that I would be a candidate or would ever serve an elected office,” she tells InStyle. “In fact, I thought, ‘Absolutely not. Never will I do this; I will always be behind the scenes — helping, supporting, canvasing, phone banking — but no way do I ever want to do this.’” 

As time went on, Escobar quickly realized that she needed to use her own voice to enact change on a grand scale. “If I expect an ambitious, ethical government, then I’d better step up and fight for that,” says the advocate for immigration reform. “I’d better be willing to jump in and put my name in the ring. And so I did.” 

RELATED: If Young Kim Wins in November, She Could Be the First Korean-American Woman Elected to Congress

If elected, Escobar would become the first Latina from Texas in Congress, and the potential milestone isn’t lost on her. “When I learned that there has never been a Latina elected to Congress from Texas, I was shocked,” she tells InStyle. “I actually didn't believe it at first, because it just seems unreal for a state our size and for a state with a significant percentage of the population being Hispanic. Knowing that we could make history is very exciting.” Keep reading to learn more about Escobar.

Getting into giving back: 

“What initially got me involved in helping other candidates was a deep frustration about the direction the community was going in,” says Escobar, who noticed changes to her El Paso, Texas, community when she moved back after graduate school in 1993. “I felt some very disturbing xenophobia in the community. It was being fueled by the local border patrol chief’s approach to militarize our border and make migrants seem undesirable and dangerous. There was this proposal to build a wall, and I was really horrified and offended. I felt like that was not representative of the community or our location on the U.S.-Mexico border. That conversation, the call for a wall, was being led by a border patrol sector chief, who decided to run for Congress in 1996. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we can't have a proponent of building a wall representing this vibrant, wonderful community on the U.S.-Mexico border in Congress.’” 

Escobar decided to take action. “The first campaign I worked on was for an opponent of that border patrol chief,” she says. “It was the first time I ever knocked on doors. I felt a call to action, to defend the community, and to fight back against what I believed were xenophobic viewpoints that were harmful to the community.” 

Most important issues:

Through her platform, Escobar advocates for issues such as protecting the environment, expanding access to affordable healthcare, and improving veterans’ services. But her campaign’s central call to action is focused on standing up for the U.S.-Mexico border and supporting immigration reform. “During a time when border communities like mine are being targeted through family separations, denial of passports, and using our ports of entry as a place of obstruction for asylum seekers, knowing that we could make history is very exciting — specifically because I come from the border,” she says. “The border really is a target right now during this era in the Federal Government, led by the Trump administration. To know that, in response, we're making history by sending a person from the border to Congress — who is a Latina, who looks like her community — the fact that the border's making history is very meaningful to me.”

Community inspiration:

When Escobar thinks about the future of El Paso, she’s motivated to keep pushing for change. “There are two real driving inspirations in my life, and number one is my community,” says Escobar. “I come from a community that takes care of each other, where families always look to help, protect, and lift up one another. There is incredible inspiration that comes from that.” 

Her other key inspiration is her family, “especially” her two children, 20-year-old son Cristian and 18-year-old daughter Eloisa. “I feel a deep obligation to leave them with a better planet, a better community, a better government,” says Escobar. “And that's not what is happening right now. We are living in what I believe is a very dark era in American history, and I believe that we need a very strong voice, a zealous advocate for the border and families here, and someone who would fight for a just and humane government. I feel this sense of urgency to work on things so that my children inherit something that is better than what I inherited.”

Biggest challenges:

Escobar’s campaign trail hasn’t been hurdle-free. “I think the hardest thing for me — and it may be the same for other women, especially women of color and women without large financial means — is that it really, truly is a financial sacrifice to run for these offices,” says Escobar. “I think that's what makes it so difficult for women, and why there are so few women who run. I had to quit my job a year ago. My family's had to make tremendous financial sacrifices so that I could have the privilege of running for Congress, and I'm one of the fortunate ones. I have the support of my husband, my family, and my friends to really help me get through this very difficult time for us, financially.” 

Escobar is painfully aware that without that level of support, her run for Congress may not be possible. “There are so many talented and brilliant women out there whose voices we need but we can't have, because they're single moms or because they just don't have the financial means to do it,” she says. “So I recognize in the difficulty I've faced that I am actually very fortunate to be able to make the sacrifice. It definitely has not been easy, but I'm grateful for the opportunity.”

For more stories like this, pick up the November issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Oct. 12.