State Rep. Stefani Carter, R-Dallas, might have had an easy time seeking re-election to her seat in House District 102. But after she reversed a decision to run a statewide campaign for railroad commissioner last year, she re-entered what had become a crowded contest for her House seat. She ultimately finished second in the GOP primary, with 33 percent of the vote.
That leaves the two-term incumbent in a tight spot going into her May runoff with Linda Koop, a former Dallas city councilwoman, who finished with just under 35 percent.
After a primary that featured plenty of heated language — with candidates trading accusations ranging from sexism to lying — Carter said her campaign is focused on fiscal policy in the month leading up to the runoff. In an interview, she called herself the “more fiscally responsible and fiscally conservative” candidate.
"We just have a difference in mentality on these fiscal issues," she said.
Koop denied that claim, and said she had “much more policy experience” than Carter.
Meanwhile, Koop has pounced on alleged missteps by Carter on the campaign trail — including questions raised about a car accident that Carter called "life altering" and appeared to compare to injuries sustained by former primary candidate Sam Brown, a military veteran, while he served in Afghanistan. A Dallas Morning News report revealed a crash investigation that showed Carter was at fault in the accident. The police report said she was not injured.
“I think people look at the two candidates side by side, and they absolutely can trust what I’m saying,” Koop said.
Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University, called Carter’s showing in the primary campaign “troubling” for an incumbent. He said she effectively shot herself in the foot "with her decision to go for the Railroad Commission,” and added, "She stumbled and had a hard time getting her balance.”
Craig Murphy, a political consultant working for Koop’s campaign who previously worked for Carter, agreed.
“Every single one of [Carter’s] problems in this campaign is self-inflicted,” he said. Murphy joined Koop’s campaign last year while he was working on Carter's campaign for statewide office; he stuck with Koop when Carter switched gears.
“If people tend to vote against an incumbent, it tends to be the incumbent’s doing,” he added, calling Carter’s comments about the car accident “insane.”
In response to that statement, Carter said she believed her constituents “are more concerned about people's voting record than they are about personal attacks.”
Carter launched her bid for the Railroad Commission in July. But after tepid fundraising, she withdrew from the race and opted instead to seek re-election to her House seat. By then, a line of contestants had formed to succeed her.
Koop took first place in the four-way March primary, receiving roughly 200 more votes than Carter. Brown, the third-place finisher, recently endorsed Koop over Carter.
In the endorsement, posted to his Facebook page, Brown praised Koop’s “shared experience” in the community and contrasted her with Carter, who he said is “not married with children to provide for or nurture.” Carter said the comments were “deeply offensive” and sexist. She questioned why Brown would “make an endorsement based on whether a person is single and whether they’ve nurtured children.”
Brown shrugged off the criticism, saying, “I would be fundamentally disqualified from the definition of a sexist because I’m endorsing a woman."
Carter was first elected to the House in 2010, when she unseated Democrat Carol Kent. In her 2012 primary, Carter ran unopposed. The winner of the May runoff will face Democrat George Clayton in the November general election.
Jillson, the political scientist, said Carter’s second-place showing in the March primary forebodes her toughest race yet. “She’s in significant trouble,” he said.
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