Freshman Rep. Chris Bell (D) suffered a resounding defeat at the hands of former Houston Justice of the Peace Al Green (D) in Tuesday’s Texas primary, becoming the first incumbent to be defeated for re-election in the 2004 cycle.
Green won a 35-point victory over Bell in the redrawn 9th district, benefiting from the support of several Congressional Black Caucus members, including Reps. Maxine Waters (Calif.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas).
Several Democratic Members voiced their disapproval with their colleagues for supporting a nonincumbent.
“These feelings aren’t going to heal easily or quickly,” said Rep. John Tanner (Tenn.). “Individual Members are upset, and they are angry at the situation with regard to incumbent protection.”
Bell carried the united support of the Democratic leadership.
“Most of us would urge Members to support the incumbent they know,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Matsui (Calif.), who refused to condemn those who had thrown their backing to Green.
CBC officials were careful to note that neither the CBC chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), nor the Caucus as a whole offered a formal endorsement of Green.
In other contested Democratic primaries in the Lone Star State, Rep. Ciro Rodriguez eked out a 121-vote victory over former Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar in the 28th district, while Rep. Lloyd Doggett cruised to a win over former state District Judge Leticia Hinojosa in the 25th district.
On the Republican side, accountant Mike Conaway and state Rep. Kenny Marchant easily won their primaries and are the de facto new Members in the heavily Republican 11th and 24th districts.
Elsewhere, most of the heated Republican battles were headed to April 13 runoffs, with the notable exception of the 2nd district, where former Judge Ted Poe won 61 percent in a six-person field. He heads to a November showdown with Rep. Nick Lampson (D).
Test of DeLay’s Muscle
Tuesday’s primaries were the first test of the new Republican-backed Congressional map pushed by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry (R) late last year.
Even before Tuesday’s voting, the new lines had driven Rep. Jim Turner (D) to retire and led Rep. Ralph Hall (R) to switch parties just prior to the January filing deadline.
The redrawn map claimed Bell, placing him in a district that included a 37 percent voting age black population as well as a 30 percent Hispanic voting age population.
Most knowledgeable observers attributed Bell’s loss primarily to his fundraising, which kept him from getting on Houston television to introduce himself to voters who were unfamiliar with him. Roughly 50 percent of the district’s territory was new to Bell.
Bell raised roughly $850,000 for the race.
Because of Bell’s lack of a television presence and the fact he did not live in the district, he was seen as a newcomer by many voters, an image that stood in stark contrast to the well-known Green.
In addition to serving as a justice of the peace for 26 years, Green was the head of the Houston chapter of the NAACP for a decade.
Green’s challenge was also significantly bolstered by the support of CBC members such as Waters and Lee, and Reps. Bennie Thompson (Miss.) and Albert Wynn (Md.).
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.