Digging Deep in Texas

Posted February 4, 2004 at 6:09pm

By Chris Cillizza

Roll Call Staff

Reps. Martin Frost (D-Texas) and Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) far outdistanced their Member opponents in fundraising over the final three months of 2003, according to reports filed this week with the Federal Election Commission.

Due to a GOP-led redrawing of the Lone Star State’s Congressional lines, Frost will face off against Rep. Pete Sessions (R) in the new 32nd district while Neugebauer matches up with Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D) in the West Texas 19th district.

The filings also revealed that several other Texas Democrats, endangered under the new map, are certain to face well-funded Republican challengers in November.

The focus of both the state and national parties in Texas will be on the Member-versus-Member races, as they are likely to feature massive fundraising totals and significant back and forth between battle-tested incumbents.

The most high-profile race will be the Frost-Sessions tilt in the Dallas area.

Frost, a former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and one of the strongest fundraisers in the Caucus, brought in $511,000 from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, while Sessions raised $116,000.

“I started putting on a full-court press during the fourth quarter last year,” Frost said this week. “I was determined to be ready and I am going to be ready.”

Sessions, however, holds a cash-on-hand advantage over Frost, ending 2003 with $728,000 in the bank compared to Frost’s $692,000.

“Martin has stated that it is going to take $3 million to run this race,” said a source close to Sessions. “The Sessions camp will not back down from that number and plans to do even more.”

Republicans also note that during the fourth quarter of 2003 the status of the new map remained up in the air, and Frost was contemplating a challenge to any of four sitting GOP Members.

Now, however, Sessions has turned his full attention to raising money for the race and has the strong backing of not only the Texas Republican delegation but also the GOP Conference as a whole.

“Within the conference there is unanimous support for Congressman Sessions and that will be reflected in the next report,” said the source.

Money aside, the demographics of the district favor Sessions.

Entirely contained within Dallas County, voters in the new 32nd would have given statewide Republican candidates 64 percent in 2002.

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.

In the far western 19th district, Neugebauer and Stenholm are preparing for a less media hyped but no less fiery campaign.

Neugebauer, who won a special election to replace Rep. Larry Combest (R) in June 2003, raked in $314,000 in the fourth quarter, roughly half of which came at a Dec. 5 fundraiser in Abilene featuring Vice President Cheney. His campaign notes that since he first began running for Congress a little more than a year ago he had raised $1.3 million.

In his own year-end report, Stenholm raised $149,000, bringing his 2003 total to $558,000.

Neugebauer also had a cash-on-hand lead, netting $507,000 at the end of the year to Stenholm’s $343,000.

Neugebauer’s fundraising is heartening to Republicans, who have privately fretted that the contrast between their candidate — the most junior member of the House — and Stenholm, the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, might not work to their advantage.

Stenholm campaign manager Jeff Benson dismissed the importance of the year-end reports, noting that “redistricting was resolved less than a month ago.”

“We will be financially competitive with Neugebauer over the next 10 months,” Benson predicted.

Perhaps the biggest advantage Neugebauer has in the race, however, is the strong Republican lean of the district, which stretches from Lubbock in the west to Abilene in the east.

Stenholm represents roughly one-third of the new seat’s population, while Neugebauer represents one-half.

In other contests throughout the state, Democratic incumbents remained financially competitive with their Republican challengers but undoubtedly will face the most serious re-election fights of their careers due to the GOP tilt of the new seats.

In the East Texas 1st district, Rep. Max Sandlin (D) raised $118,000 in the period, ending the year with $224,000 in the bank.

Six Republicans filed to take on Sandlin with two wealthy candidates leading the financial footrace.

Ophthalmologist Lyle Thorstenson (R) raised $97,000 in the period but had $273,000 in the bank. He had raised $315,000 for the race last year, $100,000 of which came from his own pocket.

Businessman Wayne Christian (R) chipped in $214,000 of his own money for the contest, showing $223,000 in his campaign coffers as of Dec. 31.

John Graves, who ran and lost to then- Democratic Rep. Ralph Hall in 2002, led the way in donations among candidates who did not fund their own campaigns.

He raised $152,000 in the period; attorney Louie Gohmert brought in $117,000.

In the neighboring 2nd district, Rep. Nick Lampson (D) showed $289,000 on hand in his year-end report.

Of his six announced Republican challengers, energy executive George Fastuca showed the most on hand ($271,000), thanks in large part to a $250,000 personal loan.

Perhaps the most engaged Republican primary is being staged in the 17th district, where Rep. Chet Edwards (D) is awaiting the eventual winner.

Attorney Dot Snyder (R) raised $235,000 in the final three months of 2003 while her main opponent, state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth (R), had $96,000 in contributions. Snyder loaned her campaign $150,000 in the period, bringing her total personal investment in the race to $350,000.

Snyder had $281,000 left to spend on the March 2 primary; Wohlgemuth showed $68,000 in the bank.

For his part, Edwards raised just $67,000 in the fourth quarter but had $417,000 in the bank.