Five Texas Runoffs Coming Tuesday

Posted April 9, 2004 at 4:37pm

The runoff battle in the redrawn 10th district featuring a pair of free-spending Republican millionaires has drawn the majority of attention from the Texas political community as voters in five House districts head to the ballot box Tuesday.

Businessman Ben Streusand (R) and former federal prosecutor Mike McCaul (R) have waged a war of bank accounts as they seek to introduce themselves to voters in a district reaching almost from Austin to Houston crafted by Republican state legislators in 2003. The 10th was redrawn as a GOP stronghold, and the winner of the Streusand-McCaul runoff will be heavily favored to win the seat in the fall.

Through April 6, Streusand had given his campaign $3.1 million — the most of any candidate running for the House so far this cycle.

McCaul has hardly been shy about employing his own money either, chipping in $1.4 million from his own coffers.

“Every dollar counts,” said Streusand campaign manager Marc Cowart, adding, however, that the key to the race will be his candidate’s focus on conservative principles versus McCaul’s “personality campaign.”

In pre-runoff reports covering contributions and expenditures from Feb. 19 to March 24, Streusand reported donations totaling just more than $1 million — with all but $3,000 coming from his own pocket.

McCaul showed $844,000 in receipts during the same period, including a $655,000 personal loan.

The candidates’ spending was roughly equal, as Streusand doled out $1.1 million to McCaul’s $901,000.

That money is being poured into a vast television, radio and direct-mail campaign in a district that includes both the Houston and Austin media markets, two of the priciest in the state.

Both candidates are up on broadcast television in both markets, although even the McCaul camp admitted that they are being outspent by Streusand.

In the March 9 primary, Streusand led the crowded 10-person primary field with 28 percent to 24 percent for McCaul.

The result broke down largely along geographic lines, with Streusand placing second in Harris County, which includes Houston, and winning the district’s six rural counties and McCaul dominating in Travis County, home to the district’s Austin anchor.

Since then, each candidate has attacked the other as not being sufficiently loyal to the Republican Party and sought to make inroads in the others’ base.

“The McCaul campaign is enormously encouraged by our ability and support in Harris County,” said Ted Delisi, a consultant to the campaign. “We are playing on our opponent’s turf.”

Cowart pointed out that Streusand placed second in Travis County in the primary and that he has picked up the endorsement of the candidate who won Harris County as well.

McCaul has lined up a number of powerful endorsements, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the state’s two Republican Senators, John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Former President George H.W. Bush also did a fundraiser for McCaul in Houston on March 31.

Cowart dismissed the endorsements as less important to the type of conservative activist voters likely to vote in runoffs than they might be in a primary or general election.

“People that vote in a runoff are going to vote ideology,” he maintained.

In two other Congressional runoffs — the East Texas 1st and Central Texas 17th — Republican candidates are fighting for the right to take on a Democratic incumbent in the fall.

The East Texas 1st district is seen by national Republicans as perhaps their best takeover opportunity in the state.

Former State District Judge Louie Gohmert led the primary with 42 percent and faces off against 2002 4th district nominee John Graves on Tuesday.

Through March 24, Gohmert had $102,000 left to spend on the race compared to Graves’ $63,000. In the pre-runoff period Gohmert outraised Graces $174,000 to $85,000, and Gohmert enjoys geographic advantages that may give her the edge.

Gohmert’s base in Smith County, which includes the city of Tyler, accounted for roughly 43 percent of all votes cast in the primary.

He received 70 percent of the vote in Smith County; that one county comprised nearly 75 percent of all the primary votes he received.

Despite these hurdles, Graves said he felt good about his campaign.

“We knew he was going to raise more money and he is from the biggest county and those are challenges we have to face,” Graves said.

“It looks tight but that’s a guess,” he added when asked for his prediction on the race.

The winner will face Rep. Max Sandlin (D) in November. The four-term incumbent had $223,000 on hand at the end of last year.

In the 17th district, GOP state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth and Dot Snyder, a former Waco school board member, will square off.

The two advanced to a runoff despite an unexpectedly strong showing from Col. Dave McIntyre (R), who benefited from the negative back and forth between the other two candidates.

Wohlgemuth took 41 percent to 31 percent for Snyder and 28 percent for McIntyre.

McIntyre chose not to endorse either candidate in the runoff, and Wohlgemuth and Snyder are fighting for his College Station base, which is seen as the key to winning the runoff.

Wohlgemuth has proven the stronger fundraiser in the runoff period; she raised $233,000 from Feb. 19 to March 24 while Snyder brought in just $62,000.

Wohlgemuth ended the period with $91,000 on hand to Snyder’s $26,000.

Snyder did give $100,000 to the campaign on April 6, bringing her total personal donations to $300,0000 to date.

The anti-tax Club for Growth has been heavily involved on Wohlgemuth’s behalf both in the primary and the runoff.

The group has bundled $300,000 in contributions to the state legislator and been on the air for the past two and a half weeks with ads praising Wohlgemuth while hitting Snyder on taxes.

Rep. Chet Edwards (D) awaits the eventual Republican nominee.

Republican runoffs will also be held in the 15th and 28th districts although Democrats hold a clear edge in each heading into the fall.