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Consultant Who Stumped for Cruz Targets Sessions

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, is facing a primary challenge from Katrina Pierson, a candidate with strong ties to the national Tea Party movement and Ted Cruz's successful campaign for U.S. Senate.

Katrina Pierson stands observing the crowd during a candidate forum for Texas Senate candidates held at the Churchill Recreation Center in Dallas, TX, on Tuesday, January 14, 2014.

In 2012, Katrina Pierson was crisscrossing Texas in her spare time to help Ted Cruz become the state’s next U.S. senator. At Republican club meetings, public rallies and on Twitter, she praised Cruz’s tenacity and commitment to repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Now, in her bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, 58, Pierson is trying to convince voters that she possesses those same qualities and that Sessions does not. Pierson, 37, a political and media consultant, said she decided last year to challenge Sessions after she attended several meetings between him and local activists.

“Everything became ‘next time’ basically — next debt ceiling fight, next continuing resolution,” Pierson said. “People seem to forget this nation wasn’t founded on going along to get along.”

She and her supporters are drawing parallels between her effort and Cruz’s successful campaign. While Cruz surprised many when he won an open Senate seat, Pierson has the trickier task of trying to unseat a powerful incumbent. Sessions has served in Congress since 1997 and chairs the House Rules Committee. He declined a request to comment on Pierson for this article.

Though she trails Sessions in fundraising, Pierson’s campaign has been gaining some momentum by leveraging her ties to the national Tea Party movement. She has drawn endorsements from Michelle Malkin, the conservative blogger, and Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, a libertarian advocacy group.

This month, Pierson gained the support of Cruz’s father, Rafael. Though Cruz has said he was not picking sides in the race, he described Pierson as “an utterly fearless principled conservative” at a recent conservative rally.

Pierson made clear she planned to treat the senator's comments as an endorsement.

“We’re going to send that out and let everybody know that the senator has not forgotten those who were in the trenches with him,” she said.

For Pierson, a run for office is the latest step in her growing immersion into Texas politics.

Soon after attending her first Tea Party meeting in 2009, she found herself a leader in the nascent movement, holding advisory roles in several groups and explaining Tea Party positions on cable news. Last year, she left a career in health care administration to start Pierson Consulting Group, a political and media consulting firm. She declined to identify any current or former clients.

On the campaign trail, Pierson and her supporters have described Sessions as a creature of Washington out of touch with Texans. They have argued that he has not sufficiently supported efforts, led largely by Cruz, to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“I think it would have been a winning strategy had Republicans gotten behind him,” Pierson said. 

In an email, Torrie Miller, a spokeswoman for Sessions’ campaign, described “dismantling Obamacare” as a priority. (At a hearing earlier this month, he predicted that House Republicans would make no more efforts to repeal the health care law but later said he was joking.)

“Congressman Sessions has broad and deep grassroots support across the 32nd Congressional District of Texas,” Miller said.

Pierson has also questioned Sessions’ ties to his Dallas district, accusing him of having moved to Florida. In 2012, Sessions married Karen Diebel, a former Florida congressional candidate. The couple owns a house near Orlando, though Sessions listed a Dallas apartment as his address when he filed for re-election.

Sessions said in an emailed statement that he still lived in Dallas, though he also spent time in Florida.

“My wife and I are working hard to make our combined families work well,” Sessions said. “With five boys living in four cities and the two of us working in three different cities, it is clearly a balancing act.

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Pete Sessions Ted Cruz Texas congressional delegation