Sessions, Frost Could Break All House Records

Posted October 6, 2004 at 6:17pm

The battle in north Texas between Reps. Pete Sessions (R) and Martin Frost (D), long considered one of the marquee matchups this cycle, now appears likely to rival candidate spending records set in any previous House race.

Aides for both Sessions and Frost say they will each raise and spend in the neighborhood of $4 million and acknowledge that the number could go even higher as the race heats up in its final month.

“Originally the goal was to raise $3 million,” said Frost spokesman Justin Kitsch. “We have already raised $4 million as of the end of” September.

By the end of June, Frost had already raked in $3.1 million to Sessions’ $2.8 million this cycle.

“Mr. Frost is in a challenger role in this campaign,” responded Sessions campaign manager Chris Homan, who added that Frost had never been outspent in a campaign he had won.

“Just matching us [financially] is probably not sufficient,” Homan said.

The two men have brought in a cavalcade of national figures to aid their fundraising efforts.

Sessions has benefited from events with Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Cheney, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Texas Sens. John Cornyn (R) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R).

Perhaps the brightest star on the Republican fundraising circuit, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, will stop in Dallas for a fundraiser with Sessions on Monday.

Frost has countered with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark.

The Frost-Sessions battle is one of two Texas races in which incumbents are squaring off. The other, in West Texas, pits Reps. Charlie Stenholm (D) against Randy Neugebauer (R). In each case, the Republican Member is the favorite due to the decided GOP tilt of the districts.

Three other Democratic Members were endangered by the re-redistricting carried out by the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature in late 2003: Reps. Max Sandlin, Nick Lampson and Chet Edwards.

With more than $8 million expected to be doled out by the end of the campaign, the Frost-Sessions contest is sure to take its place among the most expensive House races in history.

The most pricey was staged in 2000 between Rep. Jim Rogan (R-Calif.) and then-state Sen. Adam Schiff (D).

In a race largely defined by Rogan’s role in the impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton, both sides used nationwide direct-mail appeals to raise and spend roughly $11.5 million.

Rogan expended the majority of that total, spending nearly $7 million, but still lost badly to Schiff, 53 percent to 44 percent.

Two years later, former state Sen. Jim Humphreys (D) dropped more than $8 million — almost entirely in personal donations — on his unsuccessful rematch against Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) in West Virginia’s 2nd district. Combined with the $2.5 million Capito spent, the price tag for that race crested $10.6 million.

Just as California’s 27th district, where Schiff and Rogan ran, was entirely covered by the pricey Los Angeles media market, the vast majority of Frost’s and Sessions’ money will be spent on television ads aimed at delivering their message to Dallas-area residents.

The 32nd district is covered entirely by the Dallas-Fort Worth media market, which is the most expensive in the state, running roughly $400 per point — meaning that a 1,000-point buy would cost a campaign $400,000 a week.

A 1,000-point television buy ensures that the average viewer will see a commercial 10 times over a seven-day period.

Both Frost and Sessions have been on Dallas broadcast television for 10 days and plan to stay up for the duration of the campaign.

The difference between the two campaigns, argued Kitsch, is that Frost has also dedicated a significant portion of his resources to “building a grassroots organization that is going to turn out the vote and help him win.”

“Sessions doesn’t have a grassroots organization so he is going to rely on his empty television ads,” Kitsch added.

In a race that has been defined by the almost-constant sniping between the campaigns, Frost ticked the rhetoric up a notch earlier this week when he launched an ad that features images of planes flying into the World Trade Center. In the ad, Frost accuses Sessions of not doing enough to support homeland security priorities.

Sessions immediately went on the air with a response spot, pointing out that Frost favored placing “unionized restrictions” on airport screeners, which he describes as “a big difference” between the two men.

“The right votes are not always easy, but I didn’t go to Washington to get along with them, I went to stand up for you,” Sessions says in the ad.

The party committees seem content to let Frost and Sessions fight it out on the airwaves.

Neither the National Republican Congressional Committee nor the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved any television time in the state, and knowledgeable party insiders said they do not expect either organization to run independent expenditure ads in the district. The DCCC has paid for some direct mail into the district on Frost’s behalf, however.

Though the party committees are likely to be absent from the race, much of the Washington establishment is already heavily involved.

Through June 30, Sessions had received $1.1 million from political action committees, slightly more than the $1 million Frost had collected.

More than 50 Republican Members have given $310,000 to Sessions from their personal campaign committees and leadership PACs.

Frost has also been strongly supported by his colleagues to the tune of $157,000.

Homan, Sessions’ campaign manager, said the Congressman has had little trouble raising the millions he needs to beat Frost.

“Martin Frost over the course of his 26 years has made plenty of enemies in Washington, D.C., and here in Dallas,” he said.

Homan added: “It’s not because of the legislation he voted for but because of the angry, bitter partisan role he has played.”