For State Senator, an Unexpected Rival in GOP Runoff

Sleep is a precious commodity for Donna Campbell these days. Even as she seeks to unseat longtime state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, much of her time is still devoted to her work as an emergency room physician. It is not unheard of for Campbell to plow through a series of campaign events after finishing a shift at 6 a.m.

Her work , she says, keeps her grounded and helps hone her message. “In the emergency room, I see how our resources are drained from the illegals that come in, and I see how people game our Medicaid system,” she said.

The Republican primary in Senate District 25, which includes portions of six counties stretching from northern San Antonio to southern Austin, is the only one in the Senate that has yet to be decided. A July 31 runoff was a likely outcome for the three-way race, but conventional wisdom held that it would be between Wentworth and Elizabeth Ames Jones, the well-funded former railroad commissioner.

In the primary, the candidates practically split the vote in thirds, despite the huge discrepancy in the amount of money spent by each campaign. Wentworth, who, at $727,568, outspent Campbell by about four to one, finished on top. Jones, who had the backing of the powerful Texans for Lawsuit Reform’s political action committee and who spent $1,754,310, nearly 10 times what Campbell did, was last.

Now Campbell, who many anticipated would be an also-ran, is the focus of those hoping to unseat the notoriously independent-minded incumbent. After making the runoff, Campbell said she would not accept the same political action money that had fueled much of the Jones campaign. “This is not Round 2 of what happened in the last race,” she said. “I’m not picking up anyone else’s battle.”

 

The fight between Wentworth and Jones was markedly tense, culminating in a defamation suit filed by the incumbent. Both Campbell and Wentworth said they anticipate a more collegial runoff race.

But Wentworth said that he expects that TLR will exert its influence. Campbell will still take money directly from the wealthy individuals who support the organization. “It looks to me like she will take TLR money, but it just won’t be identified as TLR PAC money,” he said.

He said he had previously focused his efforts in Bexar County, which he split with Jones, who hails from the same neighborhood. “I need to put those people back together again,” he said of San Antonio’s business community members — many of whom backed Jones — who do not want control of the seat to shift to someone from a different part of the district.

He said he is devoting more time to the district’s other counties, including the northern counties where Campbell benefits from name ID picked up during her first political effort: a failed 2010 challenge to U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

Although she has seen an increase in donations, Campbell said she does not plan to change the message that has gotten her this far.

“I feel God’s wind behind my sails,” she said. “We have a great grassroots movement, and that’s what did it.”

 

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