One of the state’s 36 congressional races is a real, true, honest-to-goodness competition, according to the political maps, the candidates, the consultants, the activists and everybody else who’s paying attention.
Another 34 districts were designed to protect incumbents, the parties that now hold them, or both. Weird things happen in politics all the time, but barring the unexpected, those are set. The lawmakers who did the designing got what they wanted.
Then, there’s the race in the state’s 14th Congressional District — the place opened when U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Lake Jackson, decided he wouldn’t seek another term. It’s been redrawn to include all of Jefferson and Galveston counties and part of Brazoria County.
State Rep. Randy Weber, R-Alvin, faces Democrat Nick Lampson, a former congressman from Beaumont; Libertarian Zach Grady; and the Green Party’s Rhett Rosenquest Smith.
It’s conservative turf. Gov. Rick Perry got 55.9 percent of the vote in his 2010 re-election. Two years before that, Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain got 57 percent of the vote in the presidential race.
Weber is counting on those tendencies — and on the unpopularity of President Obama in the district — to carry the day.
Lampson has run in this area before, on different political maps, at different times, but on political ground that closely matches the current district. He’s a known quantity, he argues. And though he has lost a couple of races since leaving Congress, he says a Democrat can succeed under the right circumstances, especially at a time when voters are fed up with partisans.
Weber thinks it’s a conservative district, but he concedes that “it’s a closer race than I would like.” His focus is on national Democrats and the candidate at the top of the ticket, rather than on Lampson.
The candidates have agreed to a candidate forum and a debate — both next week — in Beaumont and in League City. Both hope to have enough money to remain on television, where voters can see them. Weber wants the election to be about an administration that is unpopular in the district, and Lampson wants it to be about a Congress too divided to function.
Weber’s first ad starts with Obama’s “You didn’t build that” sound bite and then goes on to talk about Weber starting and operating his own heating and air conditioning business.
He is also calling attention to a Lampson fundraiser featuring U.S. House Minority Leader and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi in mid-September. He is tying both himself and his opponent to their national tickets with this line in his campaign materials: “The voters of Congressional District 14 have two very distinct visions for the future. They can choose the Obama/Pelosi/Lampson liberal path which has brought us ObamaCare, $16 trillion in debt and kept unemployment over 8%; or the Romney/Ryan/Weber conservative vision to lower taxes, cut spending and debt and get Americans working again. It’s just that simple.”
That’s his formula. It’s a national election, framed by national issues — “Jobs, the economy and Obamacare, not necessarily in that order."
“This is not a good time to be a Democrat in Texas, or in this district, with Obamacare at the top of the ticket,” he says.
Weber served on the Pearland City Council from 1990 to 1996 and won election to the Texas House in 2008.
After grabbing the top spot in a nine-candidate GOP primary race for the congressional seat, Weber was endorsed by Paul in the runoff, along with several statewide Republicans: Perry, Susan Combs and Todd Staples. Six Republican members of the Texas congressional delegation — Francisco "Quico" Canseco, Bill Flores, Kay Granger, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Olson and Ted Poe — all endorsed his runoff opponent, Felicia Harris.
Weber hopes they’ll come around. He’s busy raising money — having already loaned his campaign $226,500, according to reports with the Federal Election Commission. He’s got that television ad running and hopes to remain on the air through Election Day.
Lampson is also on television, and he’s running against the rancorous status quo: “There seems to be a lot of whining and crying in Congress today,” he says in his first ad. “We can get so much more done when we work together.” He’s talking about jobs and Medicare, against spending and waste — and there is no mention of Democrats or Republicans in the spot.
Lampson’s television and printed materials are green — not red or blue, the charged colors of political partisans — and they don’t mention the fact that he’s a Democrat in any prominent way. The former Jefferson County tax assessor-collector and congressman is playing to voters who want Congress to stop bickering and get to work, saying he’s got a record of crossing the aisle to work with Republicans.
He also argues that the district looks more Republican at the top of the ticket than in local races, and that the congressional race won’t necessarily match what happens in the two races above it on the November ballot (president and U.S. Senate).
Lampson hopes to convince voters that Weber is too conservative — even for some of the conservatives in the district.
An example of that tug-of-war cropped up this week. Weber announced “Women for Weber,” staged at a woman-owned small business in Kemah. It was a jobs and business message seasoned heavily with references to the Obama administration. Weber pointed to relatively higher poverty and unemployment rates among women and promised to work on that if elected.
Lampson, hoping to win the support of female voters of every political stripe — including some who might otherwise vote for the Republican, countered with Weber’s legislative votes. He cited several votes that he said were harmful to women, including votes to cut family planning programs, to require trans-vaginal sonograms prior to abortions, and to issues of interest to women, like supporting cuts to state funding of public education.
Mostly, though, he’s relying on the anti-partisan argument. Lampson was one of several Texans knocked out of Congress in 2004 after Republican lawmakers redistricted them out of contention. He came back in 2006 and lost again in 2008. That’s all fodder for his argument about partisans.
“The interest that people have in civility in government is something I hear about far more than anything else,” he says.
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