In the battle to represent Congressional District 23, U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, and Republican Will Hurd have built substantial war chests for the homestretch in what many view as the state’s only toss-up race for Congress.
For the filing period covering July through September, Gallego reported raising about $606,300 and has about $511,500 cash on hand. He has raised about $2.3 million during the current cycle. Hurd's latest quarterly figures were not available, but his campaign told The Texas Tribune it has raised $1,144,179 during the current cycle.
As the candidates make their cases ahead of the Nov. 4 election, both campaigns have made a point to illustrate how much the other side has received from outside influences seeking to tilt the balance of the race.
The district stretches from east El Paso to Bexar County and includes about 800 miles of border and all or part of 29 counties. Gallego, 52, who served 11 terms in the Texas House, is in his first term in Congress. Hurd, 37, a former CIA agent who lost a 2010 GOP primary bid for the CD-23 seat, defeated former U.S. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco in this year’s Republican primary. Libertarian Ruben Corvalan is also on the ballot.
Gallego said his latest quarterly haul was a personal record and reflects his standing in the sprawling district.
“I am very proud of the fact that I get small amounts of money from people I’ve known for a long time,” Gallego said. “I am very humbled by that.”
In video ads, Gallego touts his Hispanic roots and culture and highlights the burgeoning growth of the demographic in the country. In one Spanish-language ad, he criticizes what he said is Hurd's support for cuts to education that would hinder the progress of Hispanics. Gallego also showcases his support from border sheriffs who say that as a border resident and former prosecutor, Gallego understands border security.
In his ads, Hurd touts his experience in the CIA and says he will bring a fresh voice to business-as-usual Washington. Hurd’s supporters criticize Gallego’s support for the Affordable Care Act and peg him as a career politician who contributes to the gridlock in Congress.
Gallego said he has had to “fight off” Hurd’s support from political action committees that have poured millions into the race on what the incumbent said were “negative ads.” But the El Paso Times reported last week that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has also spent about $901,000 to support Gallego, and the National Republican Congressional Committee has invested about $742,500 in the race.
This month, the Gallego campaign said GOP Super PACs, including the Congressional Leadership Fund, which has ties to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, had spent more than $2 million in ad buys that discussed nothing about Hurd’s ideas or experience and instead only attacked the incumbent. Last month The Hill reported that the American Action Network, which supports Republicans, was spending about $500,000 in the race.
But Valerie Chicola, the Hurd campaign's communications director, said Democrats are the ones playing dirty.
"To date, the DCCC and the House Majority PAC have released at least five negative ads targeting Mr. Hurd with baseless attacks," she said. "The accusations made in these videos are deceitful, false and intended to mislead voters."
Hurd's camp said 78 percent of contributions for the candidate's campaign have come from individuals, compared with about 54 percent of Gallego's.
"Our report shows that we have strong grassroots support through Texas," Chicola said.
Gallego has said Hurd is unwilling to debate. Gallego added that Hurd's refusal to participate in a debate proposed by Univision and the San Antonio Express-News last month was an affront to people in the district, which is 70 percent Hispanic.
Republican strategists suggested this year that Gallego could try to label Hurd an outsider because the incumbent is Hispanic and the challenger is not. But Gallego said he wasn’t trying to make ethnicity an issue and stresses that the debate would have been conducted in English. (Gallego debated Canseco in Spanish on Univision in 2012.) Gallego said he suspected Hurd declined because the debate would have been broadcast on the Spanish-language giant.
“It would have been no different than a debate on CBS or NBC or public television,” Gallego said about this year’s proposal. “I would have been able to talk about the issues and contrast not only policy differences but differences in tone and style.”
Hurd's campaign said it never declined the invitation.
"We did not, at any point, refuse to participate in a debate with Mr. Gallego," Chicola said. "When we ran into a scheduling conflict, we immediately offered up several alternate dates in an attempt to postpone it and were informed this would not be possible."
She added that the campaign offered to participate in a subsequent PBS roundtable discussion but that Gallego never responded to the request.
Gallego's camp said it never received additional debate information.
"Pete has done tons of debates in the past, he's argued on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives, the United States House of Representatives and in front of juries as a prosecutor," said campaign manager Anthony Gutierrez. "The idea that he would be afraid to debate Will Hurd is completely ludicrous."