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The Runoffs: HD-66

She says he's a carpetbagger. He says she's a moderate. We'll know what voters in this North Texas district say on April 13, when they decide whether former city councilwoman Mabrie Jackson or businessman Van Taylor will succeed state Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano.

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It was nearly midnight on Election Day when former Plano City Councilwoman Mabrie Jackson saw the final returns. With 41 percent of the vote, she had come out on top — but without a majority, so she hadn't won outright. A six-week runoff against businessman Van Taylor, the second-place finisher, lay before her. But first she needed a rest. “I'm going to sleep tomorrow,” she said. “Then we'll regroup, and we'll be ready to hit it."

The winner of the April 13 runoff will replace retiring state Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, who is slated to be the next chancellor of the Texas State University System (no Democrat filed to run this fall). It’s the first time the HD-66 seat has been open in nearly two decades.

Despite Jackson’s stated readiness, it has been Taylor who made the runoff by edging out Tea Party favorite Wayne Richard 33.5 to 25.5 percent — who has been making the most news since March 2. “My momentum coming out of the primary was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in politics,” he says.

The day after the election, he issued a press release framing the race ahead, saying, Conservatives will unite against Jackson’s moderate record and negative campaign of false, personal attacks.New precinct chairs, the Collin County Conservative Republicans and Texas Right to Life all hopped on Team Taylor, but the biggest endorsement of all came from Richard. “Although Van and I fought a hard battle in the primary, we always practiced civility and a level of professionalism throughout the process,” Richard said in a statement released shortly after the election, referring not so subtly to Jackson’s campaign tactics.

During the three-way race, Jackson sent out mailers and created a website for the sole purpose of accusing her challengers of "resume fraud." Taylor was painted as a “political carpetbagger who was registered to vote in 3 different counties over a 3-year period of time” (his previous bid for office was an unsuccessful 2006 attempt to unseat U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco). Richard was accused of voyeurism and dubious business practices, so it was no surprise that he did not shepherd his flock in Jackson’s direction.

Jackson’s campaign said it was just doing a “candidate comparison.” Taylor called it “one of the most negative mail pieces in Collin County history.”

Unlike the last go-round, Jackson won’t be the only candidate with such a website. Last week, Taylor’s campaign unveiled its own site inviting people to “learn the facts about Mabrie Jackson.” In it, Jackson is criticized for seeking the “liberal support” of organizations like Texas Parent PAC and the Texas State Teachers Association. She’s also hit for choosing not to respond to questionnaires from conservative groups like Texas Right to Life, the Liberty Institute and the Texas Eagle Forum.

“Just because you fill out a questionnaire doesn’t make you a conservative,” Jackson says.

Jackson hasn’t had a news update on her regular campaign website since Feb. 15 — and nary a Facebook or Twitter update since March 4. “We kind of let it lay down for a little while,” Jackson says, indicating that she wanted to allow Plano time to focus on the special election for her City Council seat. With that over, she says her campaign presence is about to change. She's kicking it up a notch, she says, and will remain in high gear until runoff day.

This week, Jackson says, state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano will endorse her, joining other establishment political leaders. Back in the primary, McCall was quick to anoint Jackson as his desired successor because, he says, “she is the only candidate who has been involved in the community at all levels.” The Dallas Morning News also gave Jackson the thumbs up, noting that “what voters won't find among Taylor's credentials are two important things Jackson can claim: deep roots in Plano and a long record of public service to the community, both as an officeholder and civic leader.” 

The Jackson camp has also updated its "resume fraud" website. It continues to hammer the “carpetbagger” theme, now with a new catchphrase — Taylor is repeatedly referred to as “Moving Van” Taylor — and with interactive graphics that allow the user to trace Taylor’s history from Midland to New England to Waco to Plano.

In a new Jib-Jab-esque ad featuring a smiling cartoon Taylor driving a moving van around the country, Jackson refers to herself as the “true Plano Republican.” Here's how she sums up the race: “The difference between us is the fact that I have roots in the community. People move to Plano for three reasons: good schools, low taxes, safe neighborhoods.” she says. “Nowhere has anyone ever put, ‘I moved here to find an office to run in.’”

Taylor, whose great grandfather owned a farm in Plano, bristles at those attacks, “Mabrie Jackson has spent too much time in Austin, courting some of the same liberal special interests who backed Obama," he says, "so it's no surprise she's trying to rescue her failing campaign with negative, false attacks instead of answering questions from respected conservatives."  He also questions her commitment to Plano's well-being, considering the special election to replace her on the City Council (that one she was waiting out) cost the city around $172,000.

Jackson believes that cost will be worth it in the long run — provided, that is, that voters choose the self-proclaimed "true Plano Republican" over the self-proclaimed "true conservative."

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