Texas House Primaries, Part Two

Three Hard-fought Republican Runoffs Set for April 13

Posted March 17, 2004 at 6:35pm

After a Republican remapping of the Texas Congressional lines led to a stampede of ambitious GOPers in the March 9 primaries, three districts were unable to settle on a nominee and will host runoffs next month to choose their candidates for the November elections.

Two of those races — the East Texas 1st district and the Central Texas 17th district — are seen as top targets for the national GOP, while the winner of the runoff in the strongly Republican 10th district will become the de facto lawmaker.

All three contests are set for April 13.

Texas will be at the epicenter of the fight for House control, with five Democratic incumbents in serious trouble, including two — Reps. Martin Frost and Charlie Stenholm — forced into battles with Republican Members.

For now, however, attention is focused on the upcoming Republican runoff races.

The most intriguing is in the Central Texas 17th, where state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth is taking on former Waco school board member Dot Snyder for the right to face Rep. Chet Edwards (D) in the fall.

Wohlgemuth led the primary with 41 percent to 31 percent for Snyder. Retired Army Col. Dave McIntyre made a surprisingly strong showing, missing the runoff by just 889 votes.

McIntyre’s performance was largely attributed to the negative attacks between Wohlgemuth and Snyder on the airwaves.

Snyder conceded that she needed “to get my message out better than we did in the primary,” adding, “We are going to spend the entire runoff getting my positive, proven record out.”

As expected, Wohlgemuth and Snyder both won their own political home territories.

Wohlgemuth carried Johnson County, which she represents in the state Legislature, by more than 3,400 votes.

Snyder in turn won McClennan County, which includes the city of Waco, by 1,000 votes over Wohlgemuth.

The runoff battleground looks to be Brazos County, which includes College Station, the home of the Texas A&M Aggies.

McIntyre dominated Brazos in the primary, winning by 4,500 votes over both Wohlgemuth and Snyder.

While McIntyre has not endorsed either candidate, Snyder said that both his campaign manager and media consultant have signed on with her campaign.

“We are working hard to pick up a lot of endorsements from people who have publicly [backed] him,” she said.

Both candidates are likely to be well-funded, albeit from different sources.

Snyder showed a willingness to spend her own money in the primary, putting in $200,000.

Wohlgemuth continues to receive the strong backing of the Club for Growth, which is bundling contributions to her and has run television ads on her behalf.

The club hit the airwaves with a soft-money issue ad praising Wohlgemuth in the five days following the primary, but removed the spot to comply with the 30-day advertising ban on commercials paid for with soft money, which is outlined in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

A hard-money, express-advocacy commercial from the club is likely to hit the airwaves in the coming days.

The 1st district, which takes in much of East Texas and is seen as one of Republicans’ best chances of defeating a Democratic incumbent in the fall, features a runoff between former state District Judge Louie Gohmert and 2002 4th district Republican nominee John Graves.

The winner will face Rep. Max Sandlin (D) in a district that was made 5 points more friendly to Republicans in the 2003 redistricting.

Gohmert surprised many with a strong 42 percent primary showing. Relying largely on name identification developed during his race last cycle against then-Democratic Rep. Ralph Hall, Graves took 30 percent.

Nearly three-quarters of Gohmert’s vote total came from Smith County. He won only one of the other 12 counties in the district; that one he carried with just 24 votes.

Graves maintains that several hotly contested county races drove the Smith turnout well above historical patterns — an event that will not be repeated in April with only the Congressional runoff on the ballot.

Even so, Gohmert sounded a confident note in an interview Wednesday.

“This is ours to win,” he said. “We were 8 points away and there were a lot of folks who voted for other candidates that are no longer in this race.”

As evidence of his growing support, Gohmert pointed out that state Rep. Wayne Christian (R), who placed third, is backing his candidacy.

Graves dismissed the influence of endorsements by other candidates.

“Voters are pretty sophisticated when you get to runoffs,” he said. “People in second position often win because if they were going to vote for the first guy they would have already done it.”

One potential problem for Graves may be fundraising.

He estimated that he was outspent by more than $100,000 in the primary but insists his campaign was husbanding its resources for a runoff. He said Wednesday he has already raised $50,000 in runoff funds.

In the barbell-shaped 10th district, which stretches between population centers in Houston and Austin, exorbitant personal donations dominated the primary race.

Businessman Ben Streusand gave $2.4 million of his own money to the race, spending roughly $257 per vote as he led the primary field with 28 percent.

Former federal prosecutor Mike McCaul donated $645,000 from his personal stash; he placed second with 24 percent.

McCaul’s fundraising will get a major boost on March 31 when former President George H.W. Bush hosts a Houston event for his campaign.

Despite advancing to the runoff, neither candidate is particularly well-defined, because there was little voter attention on the 10-way contest.

“The primary race was much more about identifying who you are,” said Ted Delisi, a consultant to McCaul. “The runoff race will be much more about turnout.”

Delisi noted that with just 54 percent of the Republican primary electorate backing one of the two runoff candidates, there is an “extraordinarily high percent of the vote up for grabs.”

Streusand is working to consolidate the vote in Harris County, which includes parts of the Houston area, while McCaul is solidifying his base in Travis County, which includes parts of the Austin area.