Just over a mile from U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant’s home — on the way to his district office in Irving so he won’t miss it — there’s a billboard ad that says, “Why won’t you debate me?”
The ad is emblematic of Grant Stinchfield’s campaign for Congressional District 24 and of the kind of congressman he hopes to be.
A former KXAS-TV reporter, Stinchfield is running in the May 29 Republican primary against Marchant, a four-term incumbent, and Stinchfield has made it known he won’t hold back from making a point.
“It’s a good example of the things I will do once I get into Congress,” Stinchfield said of the billboard. “It’s taking the fight to my opponent right in his own backyard. And whether the fight is the Democrats in Washington or trying to beat Congressman Marchant for his seat here in North Texas, you’d better believe that billboard is proof that I’m a fighter.”
Marchant’s campaign takes a different view. “It’s a gimmick,” said Bryan Eppstein, the campaign spokesman.
Marchant has represented the conservative CD-24 since 2005, winning re-election each time with at least 56 percent of the vote. Democrats didn't put up a challenger in 2010. The district, which has gotten more compact after redistricting, sits on the northern border of Dallas and Tarrant counties and includes Carrollton, Bedford, Grapevine, Southlake and the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Tim Rusk, a lawyer in Bedford, is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.
An early member of the Tea Party Caucus, Marchant has a solidly conservative voting record. He has a 95 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union and voted against the Wall Street bailout and President Obama’s stimulus, health care and financial reform bills.
“He represents the conservative voice of the district in terms of leading the fight in Washington for a balanced federal budget and leading the fight to repeal Obamacare,” Eppstein said.
Stinchfield’s pitch to voters is that they should elect someone who does “much more than vote conservative.”
“I believe whoever represents that district has an obligation, even on a national level, to be out there pounding the conservative drum,” Stinchfield said.
Though their conservative views align, the two candidates offer sharp contrasts in style. Stinchfield, 43, a newcomer to politics, is running as an outspoken Washington outsider. Marchant, 61, is an experienced legislator — he previously served 18 years in the Texas House — who is soft-spoken and, according to Eppstein, “not a self-promoter.” Last year, he landed a coveted seat on the House Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for tax legislation.
Stinchfield vows to use his experience as a TV reporter to be a vocal presence on cable news, promising to give his first interview upon election to MSNBC's liberal host Rachel Maddow — because he says he would "light her up." Before starting his Kwik Kar oil change business in Irving last year, Stinchfield worked for seven years as an investigative reporter on NBC’s Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate.
Stinchfield has been critical of his former employers in an ad that ran last month during NBC5’s 4 p.m. news broadcast. “I used to bring you the news nearly every night, but here's what you didn't know,” Stinchfield says in the ad. “Too many times NBC refused to let me tell the stories you needed to hear. Was it liberal bias or simply the fear of losing ad dollars? I believe it was both.”
“That was a gimmick also,” Eppstein said.
Stinchfield has already brought his experience on camera to his campaign videos, some of which resemble TV news reports. Stinchfield said his investigative skills will enable him to “uncover and expose waste, fraud and abuse in Congress” and then “communicate that directly back to the people.”
“No agency, no bureaucrat, no politician will be immune from my investigation,” he said. “And finally, the people will have a man on the inside.”
Stinchfield picked up the endorsement of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which called Marchant “a good argument for term limits.” Stinchfield has said he would serve no more than four terms if elected.
The Dallas Morning News, in endorsing Marchant, cited his "quiet style" and his seat on the Ways and Means Committee, which will allow him to reform the tax code.
“Marchant’s brand of conservative leadership," it wrote, "holds greater promise than Stinchfield’s, even for tea partiers, who can suffer from a charming naïveté about what it takes to get things done."