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Primary Color: HD-105

North Texas Democrats see GOP state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown's Irving seat as theirs for the taking in 2010 — the top target in their battle to take back the majority in the House. But first they have to settle on a candidate.

Limberg, a Democratic candidate for the Texas House from Irving.

[Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said Kim Limberg was a member of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Board; she was on a DART advisory board in Irving.]

In 2008, as a wave of Democratic victories had the party eyeing a state House majority for the first time since 2003, Republican state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown held on to her Irving seat by the narrowest margin of any incumbent in the state: just 19 votes out of 40,000 cast against Democrat Bob Romano. This year, Democrats see HD-105 as theirs for the taking and are looking for a nominee with the best chance against her. Their choice is between Kim Limberg, a former Texas Department of Transportation engineer with years of local party involvement, and Loretta Haldenwang, a younger transplant with a better-funded campaign and a slew of heavyweight endorsements.

The implications could be huge for Democrats’ dreams of taking back the House. Just three seats shy, Democrats would have to win this and a handful of other targets. Failing that, they need to limit the GOP's advantage to have a voice on upcoming issues like redistricting.

“Romano ran a close race because Linda Harper-Brown is so fundamentally out of touch with that district,” said Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, which supports Democrats and publishes a electronic newsletter pointing out unflattering things about their Republican opponents. “Clearly, the people that live in that district are looking for an alternative.”

But North Texas Republicans say Democrats shouldn’t count their chickens just yet, as Harper-Brown is campaigning harder than ever and will do whatever it takes to hold the seat.

"The fact is, this is still a fairly conservative district," said Brian Mayes, a Republican political consultant from Dallas. "And without Obama on the ticket to help these folks out, I think Linda will win by a pretty comfortable margin.”

Haldenwang, a San Antonio native and former aide to state Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, says her main issue is improving education in Texas. “The prime target is always the educational system as far as what we cut,” she says. “I want to make sure that we don’t balance the budget on the backs of our kids or the backs of our teachers.” Limberg's, not surprisingly, is transportation. She says she retired from TxDOT to run for office because she couldn’t abide Gov. Rick Perry’s toll road policies. “I realized this is not a battle I could fight from inside,” she says.

Limberg says one of Romano’s weaknesses might have been his minimal ties to the party. Since Jerry Brown's run for the presidency in 1992, she’s been involved in Democratic politics: as a precinct chair and as a state and national delegate. She's also served on Irving's citizen's advisory commitee on DART issues. “Why not somebody who’s already been dedicated to the party for 18 years?" she asks. "Why not somebody who’s participated at every level from the precinct chair to national delegate and was committed to the party?”

Haldenwang brings significant political experience of her own, albeit from Austin and not Irving, that she says will make for a smooth transition if she's elected. She moved to North Texas in 2007 to take a communications position with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Dallas. She was attracted to Irving, she says, by the diverse neighborhoods in the majority-minority district. After working as a business consultant in Irving, she says she was encouraged to run by state Reps. Robert Alonzo and Raphael Anchia.

Haldenwang has raised a considerable amount for her campaign — she has more than $44,000 on hand, according to her most recent filing — and has racked up endorsements from the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas County Young Democrats, the Texas State Teacher’s Association and Annie’s List, which trains and recruits progressive women to run for office. Limberg, meanwhile, has less than $1,400 on hand. “She just hasn’t been able to put together the type of organization and the type of structure that Loretta has,” Angle said.

Limberg argues that while Haldenwang may be better funded, many of the her contributors are from outside Irving and Dallas County. “My supporters are here, and those are the people who are going to be voting,” she sats. Haldenwang counters that to knock off a well-funded incumbent like Harper-Brown, even in a vulnerable district, a Democratic candidate needs significant funding on a statewide level. “I am running to give representation to middle-class and working families,” Haldenwang says. “Those people are not in a great place to turn around and give more than five dollars.”

The biggest issue the two Democrats disagree on is a local funding option for transportation infrastructure. Haldenwang supports it; Limberg says local funding would create disparities across the state. But the reality for Democratic voters is that the race comes down to which candidate can beat Harper-Brown in the general election.   “We fully expect this race will be a litmus test for whether or not Democrats can win back the House and have any sort of influence on redistricting,” says Robert Jones, the political director of Annie’s List. “That’s why it’s our top target.”

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State government 2010 elections Texas Democratic Party Texas House of Representatives Texas Legislature