After the May 29 primary, Roger Williams and Wes Riddle emerged from a field of a dozen Republican candidates running for Texas' 25th Congressional District with a combined total of less than 40 percent of the vote.
Williams, a car dealer and former Texas secretary of state, led the pack with about 25 percent of the vote. Riddle, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and the founder of the Central Texas Tea Party, garnered 14.6 percent — good enough for second place in the district that stretches from just south of Austin to just south of Fort Worth.
The upshot is that, for the majority of Republicans in the district, neither candidate was their first choice, leaving a lot of ground to cover and a lot of convincing to do before the July 31 runoff. Both candidates have stepped up to the challenge.
With his opposition whittled down to a single opponent, Riddle casts the race in a light that will be familiar to anyone following the Republican runoff for U.S. Senate between Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz or the Texas Senate battle between incumbent Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, and emergency physician Donna Campbell.
“Roger is clearly the insider, establishment candidate,” he said in an interview with The Texas Tribune.
“I don’t know what that means,” Williams said in a separate interview. “From a grassroots standpoint, nobody’s got the background I’ve got.”
Williams, who has built up a reputation as a major force in Republican fundraising, also has financial backing that his opponent does not. He spent more in the primary race than any other Republican running for the U.S. House, paying more than $127 per vote he received. Riddle spent about $26 per vote.
While it may have been expensive, Williams said he is proud of his showing in the first round of the primary, especially given his late entry into the race. He had already announced runs for U.S. Senate and a different congressional seat before settling into CD-25 late in the game. “For us to be able to get the results we’ve gotten, it’s very encouraging,” he said. “We’re in the right place at the right time to go to Washington and represent this district.”
Riddle said he has been running in the 25th district all along, while Williams has “been on connecting flights without a destination.” Riddle said he believes voters want more than Williams’ promise to bring a small business perspective to Washington.
“Although it’s important, and I believe experience in the private sector is always of benefit, that’s really not what’s missing and that’s not the mess we’re in,” Riddle said. “The mess we’re in today was not created because of the failure to apply business principles to government. It’s a failure to apply Constitutional principles to government.”
Riddle said his “constitutional grounding,” honed in the classrooms of West Point, is an uncommon asset. It recently earned him the endorsement of former presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside.
Much should be inferred from the two candidates’ respective endorsements, said Williams, who has the backing of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, conservative radio host Michael Reagan and three of his former primary opponents. Riddle has two of the former primary candidates in his camp. Williams also recently secured the backing of Gov. Rick Perry.
“I’m absolutely certain that this is a ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ kind of deal,” said Riddle, who waged an unsuccessful write-in gubernatorial campaign against Perry in 2010. He said he believes that Perry’s endorsement came as payback for Williams’ years of raising money for the governor, and for stepping out of the U.S. Senate race to make room for Dewhurst, who Perry has endorsed.
Both the Perry and Williams camps dispute the allegation.
Riddle has also gone after Williams over federal auto bailouts.
Williams says he always opposed them. Riddle argues that Williams’ wife, the president of their dealership in Weatherford, lobbied for the bailouts and benefited from them.
“It’s a family-owned business. They had a disagreement, and his wife is not on the ballot,” Williams spokesman Kasey Pipes said.
Riddle spokesman Matt Mackowiak said Williams’ wife’s professional role in the company where Williams serves as chief executive officer makes her fair game. “The issue is that the president of his company, who also happens to be his wife, lobbied for the auto bailout,” he said.
Williams’ attacks on Riddle are less sharp. But he often points out that unlike Riddle, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2004, he has not been on the ballot before. He also said that, unlike his opponent, “we’re not angry, we’re not going to Washington with anger — we’ve offered solutions.”
Riddle, who said his priorities include repealing “Obamacare” and balancing the budget, has raised the possibility of trying to begin impeachment proceedings against President Obama.
Whoever wins this month’s runoff isn’t done yet; he’ll face Democrat Elaine Henderson in November. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who previously held the seat, switched to a new district after the maps were redrawn in redistricting.