Texas is flyover country in presidential elections, and the redistricting process has made nearly every Congressional seat safe for one party or the other in general elections.
But voters in Congressional District 23 are getting a taste of what folks in swing states are seeing in the presidential contest: a real nailbiter of a race.
The district is 66 percent Hispanic, and neither party has much advantage. In 2008, Barack Obama got 49.9 percent of the vote here, and John McCain got 49.3 percent.
U.S. Rep. Francisco Canseco, R-San Antonio, has outraised state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, by about $1 million at last count. Both sides claim they’re winning, but the amount of money and the tenor of the attack ads suggest the race is a tossup, as top Congressional watchers like Charlie Cook and Larry Sabato have been saying. More than $5 million in outside money, from the two major parties and Super PACs, had flowed into the race by late October.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had dropped over $1.3 million and its GOP counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee, had spent a tad more, about $1.6 million.
The latest group to get into the act, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a pro-GOP Super PAC, is promising to spend $1 million in the race. The group has spent over $600,000 so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
It has used the money to run an attack ad against Gallego, criticizing past votes for tax increases and support from “radical environmental groups.”
On the other side, the League of Conservation Voters has spent $1 million so far, running ads criticizing Canseco for votes against clean energy initiatives and in favor of tax breaks for the wealthy.
The candidates are hitting each other directly, too. Canseco has dropped some nasty mailers on Gallego, one of them boldly using the face of Jesus to suggest his Democratic opponent had, in the words of his campaign manager, “abandoned” his Catholic faith.
Gallego called in a higher power, too — Bill Clinton. The former president, whose image appears in a Gallego TV ad, stumped for the president this week on the South side of San Antonio at a get-out-the-vote rally.
The Alpine Democrat is also fighting back with his own mailer against Canseco, highlighting Canseco's opposition in 2007 to the Dream Act, which would give illegal immigrant children a way to become citizens. Gallego took a dig at Canseco for opposing President Barack Obama’s “Deferred Action,” allowing such children to temporarily stay and work in the United States.
“Quico Canseco wants to deport them,” the mail piece says.
Canseco says he feels for people in that predicament, but says Obama’s executive order was unconstitutional.
“I have the utmost sympathy for children that were brought here by their parents and they know no other nation they know no other language this is their home there are solutions that can be had but those solutions are not what the president tried to do in this is subvert the Constitution,” he says. “There will be a time that we can address those issues in a very humanistic way and in a very American way.”