“Pod Bless Texas,” like a lot of ideas, was born out of failure. It was election night 2018 and Kendall Scudder, fresh off a suicide mission against incumbent Texas Sen. Bob Hall, no longer had anything to run for. Lillian Salerno, Scudder's future co-host, had lost her own race a few months earlier, succumbing in a primary against now-U.S. Rep. Colin Allred.
The two found themselves together, not for the first time, at Scudder's election-night party. Scudder, who hoped for the best after early results from Dallas County showed him with a big lead, wanted to lick his wounds after returns from the rural part of the district put Hall over the top. Salerno was ready and willing to help, so the duo headed out for some late-night karaoke.
"We went over to Casa View and went to the Royal Pour and did karaoke that night. I told her that (I wanted to do a podcast) and she said I've been kinda thinking about doing that," Scudder says. "I said, well I already have a name. It's 'Pod Bless Texas' and she said, 'Oh my God, I love it.' Halfway through the night, she's just playing on her phone and I said, 'Your generation and their cellphones,' and she said, 'For your information, I'm looking up information on how to file a trademark (on the name).'"
Thus, Texas' most widely listened to progressive podcast went from being an idea to being a thing.
Salerno, a former Obama appointee, and Scudder, a 29-year-old political obsessive and sometimes candidate, still seem like a pair that would have a lot of fun together blowing off steam after a hard night. As they embark on the third season of their podcast, they banter and help each other tell stories — like the origin one above — effortlessly. Their mission is to create a reliable, safe space for Democrats and progressives in Texas — a group that's just now coming in from decades of electoral cold.
"(We decided that) if Texas was going to be in play, it'd be nice to have folks that people could trust — nobody's going to get to us," Salerno says. "I care about doing the right thing by working people, and Democrats seem to be doing a better job with that. It's real important that we take back the state house. It's real important that we get rid of Donald Trump. (We want to be a) voice that people feel like, we're all in this together."
Over their first two seasons, Salerno and Scudder have had Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, John Hickenlooper, Kirsten Gillibrand and John Delaney on the show, in addition to a long line of local and state officials, as well Democratic activists and strategists. The show's tone welcomes everyone to the left of center. Salerno and Scudder are Texas Democrats, and “Pod Bless Texas” isn't “Chapo Trap House.”
That welcoming attitude was on display last week, when the show hosted Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter turned Michael Bloomberg strategist Tim O'Brien. Rather than going after or mocking Bloomberg's candidacy — a favorite pastime of the online left — Salerno and Scudder let O'Brien tell his candidate's story and explain why his credentials as the mayor of New York City and as a businessman made him the right candidate to knock off Trump in Texas and around the United States. (It should be noted here that Scudder is deputy state director for the Bloomberg campaign, but it doesn't seem like O'Brien got special treatment. The show isn't here to make enemies of its guests.)
Before the 2018 election, something like “Pod Bless Texas,” an unapologetic, left-leaning podcast filmed and taped in a state-of-the-art studio with thousands of social media followers, would've been almost unimaginable. Post-2018, and post-Beto O'Rourke, Salerno is getting recognized in public.
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"I'm always surprised. I ran for office. I was a fancy Obama person and nobody recognized me. Now, when I go somewhere and they're like 'Oh, you're “Pod Bless,”' and I'm like 'Whaaat.' First, I'm really honored that they're taking their time to listen and also surprised, I guess," Salerno said.
For now, the show doesn't have a designated end point, Scudder says.
"2020 is all hands on deck," he says. "(Republicans) have apprehended our government and run amok with it. I want to be able to look back with my grandkids and tell them that I did absolutely everything I could do to protect our republic and our democracy."