Former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions formally launched his campaign Thursday to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, opting against running again in his old Dallas-based district and pressing forward in Flores' seat despite some local Republican unease.
"My goal is to work together to restore the Republican majority in the House and maintain our control of the Senate and White House," Sessions said in a news release Thursday afternoon. "My support for President Trump is unwavering and I will dedicate my time in office to help enact his conservative agenda.”
Later in the afternoon, Sessions held an announcement event at the McLennan County GOP headquarters in Waco, where he railed against Democrats who he said have gone "completely left," and promised to be "vigorous" in his campaign.
Sessions lost reelection last year to Dallas Democrat Collin Allred, who defeated Sessions by 7 percentage points. Sessions spent months toying with a rematch in the 32nd District until emerging Tuesday as a likely contender for Flores' seat, which is about 80 miles south of the 32nd Congressional District and in more safely Republican territory.
Sessions, who plans to move to the 17th District, was born in Waco and grew up there. He previously represented some of the counties that are now in the 17th District. One of those counties is Limestone County, and its GOP chair, Lance Phillips, introduced Sessions on Thursday, emphasizing his connections to the area.
"This is not foreign territory for him by any stretch of the imagination," Phillips said.
The notion of a Sessions bid for Flores' seat prompted a backlash from some local Republicans in the 17th District. Among those speaking out was Flores himself, who balked at Sessions moving toward a run without consulting the incumbent and who said the feedback from district GOP leaders was "not positive."
"TX17 is blessed with a strong cadre of emerging leaders who live, work, raise families, and serve the communities in our district," Flores told The Texas Tribune after Sessions' announcement Thursday. "Some of these leaders would be world class Congressional candidates for whom I would be honored to vote and to have represent our neighbors and me in Congress."
Sessions said in a Dallas radio interview Thursday morning that Flores made a "very good point" about reaching out ahead of time and suggested that the two had traded calls Wednesday.
"He and I are getting along great — I wish better — but you know what? Sometimes we have these ideas about what oughta happen, and he knows my phone number, too," Sessions said in the interview with host Mark Davis.
Flores confirmed Thursday that the two eventually talked.
"I did not hear anything from Pete during our call which convinced me that he is entitled to elbow his way past our proven, local leaders," Flores told the Tribune.
Sessions will not have an open path to the nomination in the 17th District. One Republican, Marine veteran Trent Sutton, is already running, and another, Wes Lloyd, is exploring. Lloyd, a Waco attorney and former president of the county Republican club, had been leaning against running until word of Sessions' interest got out.
A Democrat, Rick Kennedy, is running again for the seat after losing to Flores by 16 percentage points last year.
Abby Livingston contributed reporting.