GOP’s Texas Makeover Well Under Way
The new Texas Congressional map produced two Member-vs.-Member races, one retirement and one party switch as filing closed Friday.
It also brought to a close more than three years of legislative and legal wrangling over the Lone Star State’s lines, delivering at least a temporary victory to Republicans who backed the redraw of the state’s Congressional districts.
Under the new map, six of Texas’ Democratic incumbents were forced to make unsavory decisions about their political futures.
Reps. Martin Frost and Charlie Stenholm, two of the most senior Democrats in the delegation, chose to take on Republican incumbents with significantly less experience in Washington, D.C.
Frost will square off with Rep. Pete Sessions (R) in a Dallas County district, while Stenholm will take on freshman Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R) in West Texas.
Democratic Reps. Chet Edwards, Max Sandlin and Nick Lampson all chose to run in districts that contained portions of their previous electoral bases but were made more Republican in the remapping.
Rep. Jim Turner (D) did not file for re-election after the East Texas district he had held since 1996 was split between five other seats. He is seen as a potential candidate against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) or Gov. Rick Perry (R) in 2006.
Rep. Ralph Hall filed to run as a Republican in the new 4th district Friday, reaffirming his party switch, which became public earlier in the month.
The marquee race in the state will be the matchup between Frost and Sessions, two of the most aggressive campaigners and strongest fundraisers in their respective parties.
Previewing the likely negative tone of the race, Sessions issued a release Friday headlined: “Pete Sessions welcomes Martin Frost to Dallas.”
The release adds that Frost is moving from “his Fort Worth base” to challenge Sessions.
Frost quickly hit back, alleging that Sessions did not even live in the 32nd district that he won in 2002 after holding the nearby 5th district since 1996.
Both men are likely to have ample resources to spread their message.
Through Sept. 30, Sessions had $677,000 in the bank; Frost had $402,000 on hand.
Both have raised and spent vast sums for past races as well. Sessions doled out more than $1.8 million in his 2000 race, which he won by 10 points, and Frost regularly spends between $1.5 million and $2 million on his semi-competitive re-elections.
The district, which is entirely within the Dallas media market, is one of the priciest in the state.
One advertising point will cost more than $400 after Labor Day, meaning that a significant ad buy (roughly 1,000 points) will run the campaigns more than $400,000 for one week. A 1,000-point buy means that the average television viewer will see the spot 10 times in a week.
Frost said he expects to spend between $2.5 million and $3 million on the race.
“Because of my chairmanship of the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] I know people all over the country,” Frost said of his ambitious fundraising goal.
A look at the demographics of the district shows that it has a Republican lean.
Statewide Republican candidates would have received 64 percent there in 2002; the open lieutenant governor’s race — the closest of any race on the ballot — saw Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) take 58 percent to 42 percent for John Sharp (D).
The district includes strongly Republican areas in north Dallas but also heavily Hispanic areas in Oak Cliff, an area Frost called home for 29 of the past 31 years.
In fact, the district’s minority population is roughly 50 percent, according to the Frost campaign, with Hispanics comprising 36 percent, blacks 8 percent and Asians 6 percent.
Frost said the district has the largest minority population of any North Texas district with the exception of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson’s (D) 30th district. Frost, the only Jewish Congressman ever elected from Texas, also noted that the district includes Jewish communities in north Dallas.
The other race likely to draw significant attention — and financial contributions — both in Texas and nationally is the pairing of Stenholm and Neugebauer.
The contest presents an immediate contrast in experience as Stenholm has held the 17th district since 1978 and is now the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee. Neugebauer was elected in a special election in June 2003.
Neugebauer dismissed the experience issue in an interview last week.
“Our campaign is not going to be about the past but about the future,” he said.
Stenholm agreed — in part.
“What I have done in the past only tells you what I will do in the future,” he said. “What he has done in the past is a mystery.”
Neugebauer also said that he has been preparing for this race for months, noting that he held a Dec. 5 fundraiser with Vice President Cheney in Abilene, Stenholm’s political base. That event raised $155,000 for Neugebauer, who ended September with $248,000 in the bank. Stenholm had $298,000 on hand at that time.
“We are going to be able to match resources,” predicted Neugebauer. “The White House called us to say, ‘What can we do to help Randy Neugebauer?’”
Stenholm responded that if Neugebauer chooses to issue “rhetorical statements right out of the Republican playbook, that dog won’t hunt.”
The new 19th district is anchored by Lubbock in the west and Abilene in the east; Stenholm represents roughly one-third of the new seat’s population, while Neugebauer represents one-half.
The seat heavily favors Republicans, but Stenholm, one of the most conservative members of the Democratic Caucus, has shown an ability to run and win in GOP-leaning seats.
“This is still a rural, agricultural district,” said Stenholm. He added that both he and his wife graduated from Texas Tech University, located in Lubbock, and that in the past his district has abutted Lubbock.
Edwards could have followed in Frost and Stenholm’s footsteps by taking on freshman Rep. John Carter (R) in the 31st district, but he chose instead to run in the 17th district, where his Waco base was preserved.
“My wife and I consider Waco to be home,” said Edwards. “We decided that the powerbrokers in Austin can change district lines but can’t make us change our home.”
Edwards pointed out that he currently represents 35 percent of the territory in the new 17th and that the Waco media market covers more than half of the new district. Much of the remainder of this district, which includes College Station, home of the Texas A&M Aggies, is covered by the Austin market.
Edwards admitted that it will be a “challenging race” but said he is looking forward to it.
Three Republicans will fight for the right to challenge Edwards in November: state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, former Waco school board President Dot Snyder and retired Army Col. David McIntyre.
Snyder had previously announced a challenge to Edwards in the 11th district and will show $280,000 on hand in her year-end report, said a campaign source.
The Snyder campaign also released a survey in the field Jan. 11 and 12 that showed her with an 18 percent to 16 percent edge over Wohlgemuth in the March 2 primary. The poll was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and carried a 5.7 percent margin of error.
However, Wohlgemuth got a major boost for her bid last week by securing the endorsement of the Club for Growth. In past contested primaries, the organization has helped bundle contributions to endorsed candidates and has even taken to the airwaves to support its choices.
The district favors Republicans. Dewhurst, the lieutenant governor, would have taken 59 percent there in 2002.
Lampson chose to walk away from a possible challenge to Majority Leader Tom DeLay — the chief architect of the new map —and will instead run in the 2nd district, where he is the only incumbent.
Lampson’s new district is centered in the Houston suburbs and would have given 2002 statewide Republicans 61 percent.
A number of Republicans are running, led by former state district court judge Ted Poe and former energy company executive George Fastuca.
For his part, Sandlin had been expected to run a primary campaign against Hall in the new 4th district, but Hall’s party switch made that race much more difficult and Sandlin was expected Friday to run in the new 1st district instead. Filing closed after press time.
Several Republicans are vying for the right to face him, including physician Lyle Thorstenson, who ended the year with $275,000 in the bank, former Texas Appeals Court Chief Justice Louie Gohmert and 2002 4th district candidate John Graves.
The six seats currently without an incumbent each lean heavily toward one party.
Democratic Reps. Chris Bell and Gene Green have announced their plans to run in the new 9th and new 29th districts, respectively — seats that take in much of their previous territory. Both are heavy favorites.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D) abandoned the new 10th district, which was made significantly more Republican, for the open 25th district that runs from the Austin suburbs to the Mexican border. He will be opposed by District Court Judge Leticia Hinojosa.
The new district lines have also created an interesting primary fight in the 28th, where former Secretary of State Henry Cuellar (D), who came within 6,000 votes of Rep. Henry Bonilla (R) in the 23rd district last cycle, has decided to take on Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D).
The new 10th features a crowded Republican primary with no clear favorite.
The 11th district, centered in Midland, was drawn for accountant Mike Conaway, who lost a runoff to Neugebauer in the 2003 West Texas special election. Conaway is a former business partner of President Bush.
Similarly, the new 24th was drawn for state Rep. Kenny Marchant (R).
Although each of the six targeted Democrats admit their races will be difficult, they vow that Republicans’ attempts to push them into early retirement has done nothing but energize them.
“I don’t want to look back and say I let [Republicans] do it without a fight,” Stenholm said.
Kori Bernards, communications director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, accused the National Republican Congressional Committee of “bluster” regarding its prospects in 2004 and predicted it would backfire.
“One thing we know is that when Texas Democrats get mad, they get even.”
Responded NRCC Communications Director Carl Forti: “Congress won’t be the same without Mr. Stenholm and Mr. Frost next year, but we wish them good luck.”