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U.S. Rep. Barton on Primary: "My Real Opponent is Me"

Congressman Joe Barton isn’t expecting too much trouble in his re-election bid. But the longtime incumbent has three opponents in the Republican primary, and political observers say it could be a tougher-than-usual race.

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Congressman Joe Barton’s campaign isn’t expecting too much trouble in his re-election bid: At last check, the 28-year incumbent had more than $1.3 million cash on hand, and poll numbers showed him sliding to an easy victory without a runoff in the largely conservative CD-6.

But he’s also got three Republican primary opponents and some rough patches on his resume that some political observers say could open the door for an ouster in the recently redrawn district, which spans Navarro, Ellis and Tarrant counties.

"My real opponent is me, in a sense. I'm a long-term incumbent, there's a lot of dissatisfaction with the job Congress is or isn't doing. My record is a central issue in the campaign," he said. "We never take an election for granted. ... The good news is it's a conservative district, and I have a conservative voting record." 

Barton’s tenure in Washington makes him a heavy hitter; he has chaired the House Committee on Energy and Commerce — where he’s currently the chairman emeritus and senior Republican — and has worked to pass deregulation policies for both the electric and natural gas industries. He also led the bipartisan charge in recent months to protect privacy online, particularly for children.

But his track record has some blemishes, from his effort to block a bipartisan 2006 bill to combat autism — critics alleged it was because he didn’t support research into possible environmental causes — to his notorious apology to BP after the company’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He called a $20 billion fund for spill victims a “shakedown” from the Obama administration and later retracted his apology.

It’s campaign fodder that Barton’s opponents hope they can capitalize on.

Barton’s best-known challenger, Joe Chow, was the mayor of Addison for six years. The Dallas restaurateur, whose campaign slogan is “It’s Chow Time,” is originally from Taiwan, has twin daughters who served in the U.S. Army in Iraq, and says he was the state’s first Asian-American mayor.

But Chow faces an uphill battle. With nearly $29,000 cash on hand and nearly $162,000 in total contributions as of the April filing deadline, his fundraising pales in comparison to Barton’s. He’s banking on making it to a runoff, where he hopes the tides will turn again the incumbent he calls “the most corrupt congressman in the state of Texas.”

“For someone who’s been in Congress for 28 years, you’re not going to take him down all at once,” Chow said. “But how about twice? All I’m aiming at, working so hard at, is to get into a runoff.” 

Barton has two other primary opponents: Itamar Gelbman, a private security consultant and search and rescue pilot, started his career in Israel, where he served as an undercover police officer in the Tel Aviv Police Department and a lieutenant in the Israeli Defense Force. As of the last filing deadline, he had $178,000 in cash on hand — but $179,000 in campaign debt. Frank Kuchar is a preacher turned telecommunications businessman turned accountant, who also teaches at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Across the aisle, three Democratic candidates are facing off for a shot at the November general election, despite the district’s conservative makeup.

Brianna Hinojosa-Flores is an intellectual property lawyer and Coppell City Council member. Don Jaquess is a Vietnam veteran, retired iron worker and Arlington businessman. And Kenneth Sanders has worked in manufacturing, accounting and logistics for General Motors, Arthur Andersen and Lockheed Martin.

Hinojosa-Flores said while she knows the district had traditionally been favorable to Republicans, she thinks voters are fed up and embarrassed of Barton, especially after his oil spill apology. “He has offended people on both sides of the fence,” she said. “People are ready for a change, for new leadership.”

While she thinks Barton will win the GOP primary, with new district boundaries, she said, it’s hard to predict the final outcome.

“If anybody has given him a run for his money, it’s Joe Chow,” Hinojosa-Flores said. “I haven’t seen Joe Barton signs in years — and we’re seeing them now.” 

Barton said this is the first time "since probably 1998" that he's had a "marginally competitive primary." But he said his polling still puts him at 50 points ahead of his nearest opponent, with a 5-to-1 favorable-to-unfavorable rating.  

"The voters are not stupid," he said. "They understand having somebody who knows his way around, who knows how to get things done... it's better to have that kind of a person than somebody who, with the best of intentions, is going to be more in a learning mode than anything else for two to four years."

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