It seems like the legislative race on everyone's lips inside the Austin bubble this week is the Jim Keffer race in HD-60. Movement conservatives have made runs at the Eastland Republican (and Speaker Joe Straus cardinal) in past election cycles. But what we keep hearing is that the continued shift in the district's voter center of gravity to the Granbury area favors a conservative challenger.
That challenger this time is Cullen Crisp, a Granbury farmer who grows strawberries and peaches and harvests honey. His financial reports aren't gaudy. His 30-day report filed this week shows him raising just $15,525 with roughly twice that much in cash on hand for the remaining month of campaigning.
What he has now, though, are endorsements that resonate with Tea Party primary voters. Congressman Bill Flores announced his support for Crisp in mid-January. Not coincidentally, Flores noted that he took 74 percent of the vote in Hood County (where Granbury is located) when he scored his 2010 victory over Chet Edwards.
More importantly, Crisp has the support of Empower Texans. The Tim Dunn-financed group gave Crisp $10,000, or nearly two-thirds of what he raised during the first three weeks of the year. In addition, the HD-60 race is one of several being highlighted in mail pieces sent out by Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, a direct campaign expenditure entity related to Empower Texans.
Keffer, meanwhile, reported raising about $48,000 on his 30-day report with big money contributions coming from the Good Government Fund ($6,000), the political arm of Chesapeake Energy ($5,000) and the political arm of Atmos Energy ($3,500). Keffer is chairman of the House Energy Resources Committee.
The incumbent has more than $330,000 in his campaign war chest for the final month.
The race, though, has developed some real heat this week, spurred by broadsides from the Crisp campaign and Empower Texans. The Crisp campaign equated a Keffer mailer critical of Crisp for educating his children at a private school to an attack on his children.
Empower Texans went after the Keffer campaign for trying to get cable companies to stop airing an Empower Texans advertisement that questioned his conservative credentials. In asking to have the advertisement yanked, the Keffer campaign is claiming it has false content.
HD-6 GOP challenger Skip Ogle received some attention in mid-January for a six-figure haul in campaign contributions. That total was doubly remarkable for how much of the money came from local donors. He appeared to maintain that momentum on his 30-day report, raising more than $56,000 over the first 23 days of January.
Tyler oil and gas man Curtis Mewbourne gave Ogle a $20,000 contribution — equaling what he gave the challenger last fundraising period. In addition, the political arm of the Texas Association of Realtors gave Ogle $10,000.
Ogle raised more than twice what the incumbent, Matt Schaefer, raised. Schaefer reported more than $24,000 in contributions on his 30-day report. And Ogle spent more than three times as much as Schaefer.
Like the HD-60 race, Empower Texans is backing Schaefer with the affiliated Texans for Fiscal Responsibility spending money independently on the HD-6 contest.