With incumbent Sen. Wendy Davis out of the race, candidates in Senate District 10 are revving up for what could be a tough race in a swing district that has been under Democratic control but tends to lean Republican.
The Republican field is already crowded with four candidates in the race. Names of potential Democratic candidates are swirling, but no contender has officially announced. And since Fort Worth will be home base for Davis' newly announced gubernatorial campaign, insiders say the eventual Democratic candidate for the Senate seat could ride her campaign coattails.
Among Democrats, Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns' name has come up as a potential candidate to succeed Davis. Burns previously said he thought about running for the seat but that it wasn't open yet.
Davis is officially in the gubernatorial race now, but Burns said he remains undecided about whether he’ll jump into the Senate race despite urging from friends and supporters.
“I will be talking with my family, constituents and with Tarrant County business and community leaders over the coming days and weeks about our future together and how we can best keep strong representation for Tarrant County neighborhoods while moving Texas forward,” Burns said in a statement.
Burns is a longtime friend of Davis and succeeded her on the City Council in 2008 when she stepped down to run for the Senate. His partner, J.D. Angle, is a longtime Davis consultant and is expected to run her gubernatorial campaign.
Deborah Peoples, Tarrant County Democratic Party chairwoman, said others have expressed interest in the race, but the potential contenders were waiting for Davis' announcement.
The GOP has tried to take the swing district back since Davis first won it in 2008.
Chris Turner, a political consultant for Republican candidate Tony Pompa, said that it will be a tough race, regardless of who becomes the Democratic candidate. With Davis running for governor, some expect that her campaign could have some down-ballot influence locally and might improve Democratic voter turnout.
Turner said Davis would likely work the district for votes in her own campaign, and that other down-ballot Democrats would try to capitalize on being part of “Wendy’s team.”
Pompa, a trustee on the Arlington Independent School District board, was brought to the U.S. at age 11 from Mexico and lived as an undocumented immigrant until 1993. His “American dream” story gives him a cross-party appeal that might reach a broader group of voters, Turner said.
“He can not only help Republicans win this seat in November, but many consider him, and candidates like him, to be the antidote to the turn Texas blue efforts by the Democrats that Wendy Davis’ campaign for governor is clearly a part of,” Turner said.
Konni Burton, a Tea Party candidate, was the first to join the race, running on a campaign to unseat Davis before the gubernatorial candidate carried out her now famous hours-long filibuster this summer.
Burton, who has received support from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and other GOP leaders, said she is still focused on taking the district back for conservatives.
“Wendy Davis moving on to the governor’s race doesn’t change the importance of winning Senate District 10,” Burton said. “The momentum our campaign has, combined with the grassroots energy that is growing daily, will blow the Democrats away in November.”
Former state Rep. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth, another candidate in the Republican primary race, said he hopes to take the seat back for conservatives following his 2012 loss to Davis by about 6,500 votes.
Asked what effect Davis’ bowing out might have on the race, Shelton did not comment.
GOP candidate Mark Skinner, who owns a commercial real estate business, said Republicans might benefit from Davis’ filibuster efforts and her support of progressive ideas, which have “awakened” members of the Republican Party who had been sitting on the sidelines during previous elections.
Skinner said he is optimistic that Tarrant County voters still identify with Republican values, but he agreed that the race will be challenging for any candidate.
“For the Republican Party to think it’s any easier now is a mistake,” he said.