Twenty Texans think they could do a better job than U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.
In his re-election bid, the two-term Republican senator has drawn seven Republicans, five Democrats, four independents, three Libertarians and one Green Party candidate to run for his seat. It is by far the most crowded statewide race in Texas this year.
In the Republican primary, U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman has drawn outsize attention, thanks in part to his surprise decision in December to forgo re-election and challenge Cornyn. His campaign strategy since then has puzzled both supporters and critics. Stockman has made few public appearances and skipped more than a dozen House votes this month. He has recently argued that the mainstream media is trying to sabotage his campaign, going so far as to accuse news outlets of misreporting his whereabouts on a recent international trip.
“Annoy the media! Go here to chip in $5 to help defeat Obamacare funder John Cornyn!” Stockman wrote Monday on Facebook with a link to his campaign website.
Besides Cornyn and Stockman, the Republicans in the race are Curt Cleaver, a hotel industry executive from Keller; Ken Cope, an aerospace consultant in Midlothian; Chris Mapp, owner of a Port O'Connor marine sales business; Reid Reasor, an Austin computer animation firm owner; Dwayne Stovall, who runs a Cleveland construction and oil field services company; and Houston immigration attorney Linda Vega.
The Democratic primary has centered on David Alameel, a millionaire dentist from Dallas who previously ran for Congress in 2012 and spent more than $4,000 per vote to come in fourth. Though he has drawn questions about his loyalty to the Democratic platform, he has recently drawn the backing of one of his party’s biggest political stars, state Sen. Wendy Davis.
Along with Alameel, the candidates in the Democratic primary are Houston businessman Michael Fjetland, Odessa physician Harry Kim, anti-Obama political activist Kesha Rogers of Houston and El Paso lawyer Maxey Scherr.
While Stockman has drawn the lion’s share of media attention, he has not been as visible on the campaign trial. None of the Republican candidates interviewed by The Texas Tribune recalled seeing Stockman at any candidate forums or other political events since December, when he joined the race. Stockman has also refused to answer lingering questions about his income and campaign fundraising. Stockman has declined multiple media requests from the Tribune.
Cleaver could also not be reached for this story.
Among Tea Party groups, Stovall has been something of an up-and-comer. He has won at least two recent straw polls hosted by Tea Party groups and has drawn endorsements from Tea Party groups in Pearland, Alvin and Kaufman.
“Let’s just say the Tea Party candidate has always been me, and there hasn’t been another one," Stovall said. “We’re the best campaign you haven’t heard of."
All of Cornyn’s Republican opponents cite repealing Obamacare as a key goal, as well as support for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s efforts to repeal the law. Though Cornyn has also expressed opposition to the law, his disagreement with tactics adopted by Cruz last year opened a line of attack for conservative critics. Stockman has called Cornyn a “backstabber.” Other primary opponents have been less harsh.
“I’m not telling you he’s not a good guy,” Mapp said of Cornyn. “In today’s environment and the administration we have, I tell you we need someone who’s a lot more vocal.”
Vega said she doesn't see Cornyn doing anything to lead on issues like cutting spending or reforming immigration in a way that ensures the border is secure and extends the legal workforce.
“I decided to run because I was looking at the situation in Washington, D.C., and it seemed to be full of gridlock,” Vega said. “I didn’t see any promising legislation coming from John Cornyn, and I haven’t seen it for 11 years.”
To counter critics, the Cornyn campaign has pointed to the senator’s endorsements from groups like the National Rifle Association and his 94 percent rating from Americans for Prosperity.
“John Cornyn is proud of his strong conservative record, and appreciates all the support he’s gotten from folks across Texas on the campaign trail,” campaign spokesman Drew Brandewie said in an email.
For all of the candidates, raising enough money to counter Cornyn’s $7 million war chest and reach voters across Texas is a challenge. Several, including Cope, are largely self-funding their campaigns. On Tuesday, he released a plan to replace the U.S. income tax with a 5 percent national sales tax and a 3 percent tax on the gross revenues of companies with more than $2 million in annual revenue.
“I’m not a foolish man,” Cope said. “I’m not out to waste my money to tip at windmills. There’s a road to success here, and the first step is understanding that John Cornyn is in big trouble in this state and the citizens are unhappy.”
While Reasor echoes several of his primary opponents in advocating for less federal spending and implementing local control over public education, some of his other views are unique to the race. If elected, he said, he plans to have Marines arrest Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the U.S. Senate floor if Reid attempts to bring up any unconstitutional legislation, which Reasor described as “an illegal vote.” The U.S. Supreme Court would have to settle the matter, he said.
“When I’m elected, I really don’t plan on being re-elected,” Reasor said. “In fact, I don’t plan on making it through the first term because of the constitutional crisis I plan on making.”
While the Republican candidates are criticizing Cornyn for not being enough like Cruz, most of the Democrats are lumping both Texas senators together as part of the problem with the federal government.
“John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have hurt Texas pretty much more than anybody has,” Scherr said. “They pretty much have done everything they can to vote against the people.”
Fjetland, who has previously run twice for Congress, said he decided to run after learning that the state's better-known Democratic leaders, such as San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and Houston Mayor Bill White, were not launching campaigns.
“The Tea Party guys that came in 2010 are just off-the-wall nuts, and I felt like it was time to step up to the plate,” said Fjetland, who encourages voters to call him “F-Jet” on the campaign trail.
Kim said his background in health care makes him best-suited to fix Obamacare, which he believes is flawed but worth saving.
“I agree with the concept. I felt that they underestimated what the true cost of it is going to be,” Kim said.
Both Scherr and Fjetland argued that Democratic primary voters should be wary of supporting Alameel, who has the support of Davis and a personal fortune of millions to spend on his campaign.
Scherr has criticized Alameel for a history of large donations to Republicans. In recent years, Alameel has emerged as one of the top donors to Democratic groups and candidates in the country. However, he also has given to Republicans, including $8,000 to Cornyn in 2004.
“The right candidate is not someone who has actually given money to John Cornyn in the past but someone who’s ready to fight John Cornyn,” Scherr said.
In a phone interview Monday, Alameel said he wished he could get a refund for his donations to Republicans.
“I used to think that Democrats and Republicans work together, but you know it’s becoming more and more crystal clear that today’s Republican Party is far too extreme,” Alameel said. “John Cornyn is part of that extreme problem.”
Fjetland said Democrats should be wary of how Republicans will exploit Alameel’s Lebanese background if he wins the primary.
“They’re going to imply the worst and scare the average Texan,” Fjetland said.
Asked about Fjetland’s comments, Alameel campaign spokesman Zac Petkanas said, "This campaign will be about one thing: the clear choice between Wall Street's favorite senator, John Cornyn, and David Alameel's commitment to creating jobs, ensuring a quality education for all children and protecting Social Security and Medicare."
The fifth Democrat in the race, Rogers, is the only candidate to have previously won two Democratic primaries, both for a U.S. House seat in 2010 and 2012. Yet she is also the most controversial candidate, as she advocates for the impeachment of President Obama for his “advancing the post-9/11 banker's dictatorship initiated by his predecessor,” according to her campaign website.
A supporter of political activist Lyndon LaRouche, Rogers also supports replacing Obamacare with a single-payer health care system, increasing funding for NASA and reviving the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era law that curtailed financial speculation by commercial banks.
“My first priority would be to bankrupt Wall Street, to shut down the bail-out and bail-in policy,” Rogers said.
But it’s her support for Obama’s impeachment that has prompted the Texas Democratic Party’s executive committee to actively oppose Rogers' campaign. On the party’s website, the other four candidates for U.S. Senate are listed, but not Rogers.
Rogers said she wasn’t concerned about the opposition from her own party.
“I’ve been invited to participate in many forums, and I will be able to get my solution and my policies out there,” she said.