CYPRESS — Texas Republicans learned at least two lessons after suffering significant down-ballot losses in 2018, particularly in state House races.
Lesson No. 1: Even incumbents in districts that may seem initially uncompetitive should take their campaigns more seriously. Lesson No. 2: The party should think more about the candidates it puts forward for the general election, particularly in an increasingly diverse state.
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Both those lessons are coming to a head in the Republican primary for House District 132, where former Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Katy, lost reelection in 2018 to Democrat Gina Calanni by just 113 votes. Among the 12 House seats that the Democrats flipped in 2018, the suburban Houston district is one that Republicans insist they never should have lost — and thus it is high on their target list heading toward November.
But first, they have to get through the primary. Katy businesswoman Angelica Garcia was the first in, announcing her campaign in July 2019 — and getting Gov. Greg Abbott's endorsement less than a month later. But that did not clear the field of Republican competitors. Schofield moved forward with a comeback bid, setting up a primary that has not only pitted him against Abbott but also divided some of the GOP groups that are most active in state House contests.
Despite Abbott's endorsement, Garcia appears to be in an uphill battle — Schofield is better funded and better known. During a rally here Wednesday with Abbott, Garcia made an explicit pitch against Schofield, accusing him of effectively forfeiting the district to Democrats.
"They turned our district blue because Mike Schofield was missing in action," Garcia said. "Mike Schofield handed this district to a pro-choice and anti-gun Democrat because he didn't show up. He left over $100,000 in his campaign account, unspent on yard signs, unspent on meet-and-greets, and then lost by about 113 votes."
"Will we let Mike Schofield help the Democrats win again?" Garcia asked, drawing shouts of "No!"
In an interview, Schofield said his political consultants had assured him he did not need to worry about his reelection in 2018 and that he could focus on helping other Republicans on the ticket. In any case, he said, "I have learned now to follow the instructions of the flight attendant and put my oxygen mask on first."
Schofield, who decided shortly after the defeat that he would probably run again, is taking nothing for granted this time. By his count, he has knocked on 4,000 doors since October and put up over 1,000 yard signs.
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"The voters in this district know me," Schofield said, "and I make sure that they keep knowing me because I keep knocking on their doors."
Simmering in the background of the primary is the Texas GOP's push to broaden its appeal, particularly in increasingly diverse districts like HD-132. The Hispanic Republicans of Texas endorsed Garcia weeks after she announced her campaign, hailing her as a "bright, rising star of the Republican Party in Texas."
“Garcia is the most qualified candidate in this race, having started a business and raised a family in House District 132," said Aaron De Leon, political director for the Associated Republicans of Texas, which has endorsed Garcia. "She understands the challenges her neighbors face every day. With a quality candidate like Garcia, this district is primed for Republicans to win it back in 2020. House District 132 is an ideal district for Republicans to show the diversity in our party."
Schofield and his supporters counter that he knows the district better and is showing through his primary campaign that he will work harder to reclaim the seat in November. Houston state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who has endorsed Schofield, said it was a "puzzlement to me" when he saw Abbott endorse Garcia, noting he has only met her once — at a holiday party late last year.
"There’s always multiple paths to victory," Bettencourt said in touting Schofield's work ethic, "but there’s nothing better in a suburban district like Katy ... where you’ve got a solid ground game and you’re willing to go talk to everybody on their front doorstep about public policy. I think that's a winning ticket in November."
Garcia may be fine with not having the highest political profile as she runs a campaign heavy on her life story and business experience. As a single mom in 2009, Garcia used her life savings and a $500 credit card to start a transportation company, AIM Global Logistics, that is now a multimillion-dollar enterprise that operates in 48 states, Canada and Mexico.
Garcia is "what we consider to be one of the most foremost things in Texas, and that is, she's a quintessential entrepreneur," Abbott said at the rally, which drew a crowd of over 80 people to a barbecue restaurant.
Speaking after the governor, Garcia fought back tears as she reflected on her "journey from my humble beginnings" and repeatedly expressed gratitude for his support.
Abbott, who has prioritized bringing more Latinos into the GOP, carried the district by 6 percentage points in 2018, his best margin in any of the 12 seats that Republicans lost. Garcia's campaign materials prominently feature his endorsement, along with an appeal to November-minded voters, billing her as "our best shot to beat the Democrats."
Schofield has advantages too, not the least of which is his deep legislative experience.
A former adviser to ex-Gov. Rick Perry, Schofield was first elected to HD-132 in 2014, and the GOP caucus named him "Freshman of the Year" after the subsequent session. He won reelection in 2016 without any Democratic opposition. After losing in 2018, he remained a figure at the Capitol, serving as general counsel to freshman Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper.
Schofield said he has resided at his home in Katy the entire time, traveling back every weekend during the legislative session.
His familiarity in Austin has helped earn him endorsements from groups like Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the Texas Homeschool Coalition, Texas Values and Texas Right to Life. Garcia has picked up the support of the Houston Realty Business Coalition and Texas Alliance for Life, in addition to Abbott, the Associated Republicans of Texas and the Hispanic Republicans of Texas.
Schofield has raised less money than Garcia since last summer — $31,000 to $40,000 — though he has maintained a wide cash-on-hand advantage, thanks in large part to the money left over from his 2018 campaign. As of Jan. 23, he had $130,000 in the bank to Garcia's $4,000.
Schofield is eager to rejoin his lower-chamber colleagues. While Garcia announced her campaign last summer, it was no secret that Schofield was eyeing a comeback shortly after his narrow loss became apparent in November 2018.
"There was never any thought of not contesting this race," he said.
Disclosure: Texans for Lawsuit Reform has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.