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Israel, VanDeWalle Head Into Rematch in HD-50

Democratic state Rep. Celia Israel and Republican Mike VanDeWalle are in a rematch for the state House less than a year after their last face-off.

Candidates for HD-50, Mike VanDeWalle (R) and Celia Israel (D)

Here they go again.

Less than a year after facing each other in a special election runoff, state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, and Republican Mike VanDeWalle are squaring off again in Texas House District 50.

The seat, representing parts of North Austin and Pflugerville, opened up after the 2013 legislative session when Democrat Mark Strama resigned to take a job with Google Fiber.

Israel thumped VanDeWalle 59 percent to 41 percent in their last face-off on Jan. 28, which saw 4.5 percent voter turnout on an icy day that closed several polling places.

The House hasn't met since Israel took her oath in February, but she is an incumbent the second time around.

“It is unusual to have to go through four elections before even taking a vote on the floor of the House, but I knew this going in, and I’m up for the challenge,” said Israel, who had to plow through a primary, special election and runoff to win the seat.  

The Nov. 4 election is bound to see higher voter turnout — nearly 60,000 district voters, or 64 percent, cast ballots in the 2012 general election — than their first face-off, and both candidates say they're stepping up their games. But VanDeWalle faces a steep climb to oust Israel in the solidly Democratic district.

Since his loss, VanDeWalle, 66, said he's kept campaigning and raising money, and touts endorsements the Texas Association of Business, national and state rifle associations and the Texas Alliance for Life.

VanDeWalle is a chiropractor, and his largest campaign contribution so far is $34,000 from the Texas Chiropractic Association. His campaign fund had dipped to $3,000 as recently as July.

“We have been building over the past year, and I feel good about where we are," VanDeWalle said.

He's had 10 months to push his messages opposing the Affordable Care Act and small-business regulation, VanDeWalle said, so it's a mistake to count him out. 

“The special election was different because it was an unusual election timeframe, and a lot of voter education was necessary,” VanDeWalle said. “I had never run for office before, so it took a lot of work to get my message out.”

But the district hasn't elected a Republican since one-termer Jack Stick in 2002. Strama ousted Stick and held the seat for 10 years.

Holding her first elected office, Israel, 50, said her plan is to keep tending the grass roots.

“We do not take the voters for granted,” Israel said. “We have been knocking on doors in the district since June.”

Owner of the real estate firm Mission Resources, Israel, a lesbian, is one of only two state legislators identifying as LGBT. A longtime Democratic party activist, she's pulled in $105,000 from the Texas Association of Realtors. As of July, her campaign had more than $34,000 on hand.

Israel said she is working on a “realistic legislative agenda” to make state services more accessible for constituents.

“I represent everyone, whether or not they voted for me, and the constituents come before the campaign,” Israel said. “I can’t wait to carry over the work we’ve done thus far into legislative session.“

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. The Texas Association of Realtors was a sponsor in 2012. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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