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Despite Walk-Back, Houston Pastor Controversy Rages

Early voting starts Monday, and CD-23 candidates report big fundraising numbers.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas rallies the Republican delegates at the Republican Convention in Fort Worth June 6, 2014.

Despite attempts by city of Houston leadership to walk back a politically problematic subpoena seeking, among other materials, the sermons of five pastors allied against the city’s equal rights ordinance, the controversy stoked by Christian conservative leaders isn’t going away yet.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, for example, continued to use social media and an online petition on Thursday to keep the issue alive.

Cruz isn’t alone in fanning the issue. Attorney General (and GOP nominee for governor) Greg Abbott sent Houston City Attorney David Feldman a letter on Wednesday asking him to withdraw the subpoenas in order “to demonstrate the City’s commitment to religious liberty and to true diversity of belief.”

That position was echoed by the man aiming to succeed Abbott in the AG’s office. GOP nominee Ken Paxton on Wednesday called the issuing of subpoenas for the sermons “entirely unacceptable.”

In other words, it might not matter anymore whether city leaders are able to retract the subpoena, which Parker described as “overly broad.”

The issue appears to have hit critical mass among Christian conservatives, a group that has spoken often in recent years about government intrusion into their ability to freely practice their religion, just days before the start of early voting.

Cruz’s online petition is an interesting tactic as it presents an opportunity to collect names, emails, ZIP codes and (optionally) cellphone numbers for future mobilization and fundraising efforts.

With the future of Texas' ban on same-sex marriage suddenly in doubt because of court action here and elsewhere, a mobilized conservative grassroots could come in handy down the road.

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Early voting for the Nov. 4 general election begins Monday. According to the secretary of state’s office, more than 14 million Texans have registered to vote, which the state’s elections administrator says is a record high.

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In last week’s issue, we detailed the topline fundraising numbers for the dozen legislative races currently featured in our hotlist of contests to watch.

The sole congressional race on the hotlist — between CD-23 Democratic incumbent Pete Gallego and GOP challenger Will Hurd — wasn’t included because their October quarterly reports weren’t released until this week.

But now they have reported, and here are the numbers:

Gallego reported raising $616,348 in July, August and September. He spent $919,168 and headed into October with $511,464 in cash on hand. For the entire election cycle, Gallego has raised nearly $2.3 million and spent close to $1.8 million.

Hurd’s October quarterly report had not been posted to the Federal Election Commission’s website as of Thursday afternoon. But a Hurd spokeswoman told the Tribune’s Julián Aguilar that he has raised $1,144,179 for the election cycle, or $424,874 for the quarter.

The direct contributions, though, tell just part of the story. CD-23 is the only up for grabs spot in the Texas congressional delegation and has attracted by far the most independent expenditures of any federal race.

According to FEC figures, a little more than $3 million has been spent by outside groups on behalf of CD-23 candidates this election cycle. That’s about three-fourths of the total amount of independent spending on Texas federal races.

Most of the money has been spend on Hurd, either in opposition to or in support of. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent close to $1.4 million to oppose Hurd, while the National Republican Congressional Committee has spent $376,084 in support of Hurd.

Gallego has had more than $1.2 million spent in an effort to defeat him. Two groups, the Congressional Leadership Fund and the NRCC, have both invested in the effort to oppose Gallego.

Other outside Super PACs, such as the Republican-supporting American Action Network, have also spent money on behalf of Hurd.

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