Bill Clinton, a Democrat who may be more in demand than any politician this season, spent an evening last week in the Republican-leaning Texas territory of retiring congressman and unsuccessful presidential candidate Ron Paul.
With the district’s history of supporting Paul and his libertarian views, keeping the House seat should’ve been easy. Still, the Democrat, former congressman Nick Lampson, has run an effective campaign while groups that back Republicans haven’t given the party’s candidate, Randy Weber, much help.
“National Republicans didn’t feel they needed to invest in the race because they thought it was a relatively safe district and they had a relatively uncontroversial candidate who didn’t have any skeletons or serious flaws,” said Mark Jones, who teaches politics at Rice University in Houston.
Paul won his eighth House term in 2010 with 76 percent of the vote. He has endorsed Weber, who also has support from anti- tax Tea Party groups. The district backed Republican presidential nominee John McCain, a U.S. Senator from Arizona, over Democrat Barack Obama 57 percent to 40 percent in 2008. Yet the race for the reconfigured seat is among 68 rated “in play” by the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington.
“The Republicans were so intent on getting rid of Ron Paul that they inadvertently created a competitive district,” said Richard Murray, a University of Houston politics professor, referring to the redrawn lines for the seat. “To win, Lampson will need a high black turnout and he’ll need to get 30 percent of the Romney Republicans to flip back and vote for him.”
Almost half of the 14th Texas congressional district’s residents are new to it this year, following the Republican-led state Legislature’s remapping to reflect 2010 Census data, according to Bruce Willsie, president of Labels & Lists Inc. The Bellevue, Washington-based company processes voter data. The changes increased the proportion of Democrats, he said.
Lampson’s moderate views and focus on lower- and middle- income Americans won his support, the former president said at a rally in Beaumont, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) east of Houston, a video posted on YouTube.com shows.
“He knows he’s not right all the time, unlike a lot of people,” Clinton said at the event, held in Lamar University’s football stadium. “I like Nick Lampson because he believes in arithmetic over illusion, evidence over ideology, shared prosperity, opportunity and responsibility over trickle down, and I know he believes we are all in this together.”
Lampson, 67, has known the former president and his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, since Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, the candidate said at the rally. Lampson said a daughter, also named Hillary, was Mrs. Clinton’s host that year during a swing through Beaumont.
The Democrat has used a bulging campaign warchest and the name recognition from his five terms in Congress from two different South Texas districts to give Weber, 58, a run for his money. The Republican, who fought off nine other candidates in the primary and a runoff vote to win his party’s nomination, nearly exhausted his funds.
“He’s being outspent,” Steve Munisteri, the Texas Republican Party’s chairman, referring to Weber. The candidate used about $1 million to win the nomination, leaving him with about $55,000 as of Sept. 30, compared with Lampson’s $422,000, according to federal records.
“Lampson has run as good of a campaign as anyone in the country, while the Republicans have made an inept effort,” said Democratic activist Matt Angle. He directs the Lone Star Project, a political action committee based in Washington.
The coastal district stretches from Galveston to Beaumont and encompasses the state’s biggest petrochemical complex. It was reconfigured following the 2010 Census, which gave the state four new House seats. Even after the addition of more Democrats, it still leans Republican, as the 2008 presidential vote shows.
A two-term state representative from Alvin who owns a heating and air-conditioning business, Weber has tried to use his party’s dominance to his advantage. For instance, he is quick to tie Lampson to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic party’s controversial House leader.
“I don’t need as much money as my opponent because I don’t need to run from a record of supporting Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi,” Weber said in an interview in which he invoked Pelosi’s name a half dozen times in 15 minutes. He spoke while asking people for their votes at the Lake Jackson library in Paul’s hometown on Oct. 25.
Money is now coming in from national Republican groups and political action committees that back the party’s positions on the issues, Weber said. He declined to be more specific.
Working with the Weber campaign, the National Republican Congressional Committee spent $90,000 on television ads, according to Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for the Washington- based party organization. He said he wasn’t sure whether independent political groups were doing more for Weber.
“We think we’re in a good position,” Scarpinato said. “The district is very Republican and Mr. Lampson has been rejected by voters multiple times.”
Lampson, who emphasizes his moderate views and desire to work with Republicans, raised almost $1 million through Sept. 30, according to the Federal Election Commission. He said his political campaigns have spent more than $20 million during the past 25 years, helping to give him a well-known name.
After serving four House terms starting in 1997, Lampson lost a re-election bid in 2004. Originally from Beaumont, where he was the Jefferson County tax collector, he moved more than 100 miles to Stafford, in Houston’s southwestern suburbs, and was again elected to the House in 2006. Two years later, he was defeated by Republican Pete Olson.
Weber emphasizes his support for fiscal restraint, “traditional marriage” and has been endorsed by the Texas Right to Life political-action committee. He’s also known in much of the district after serving for years as a city councilman and state representative, as well as from running his heating and air-conditioning business for decades in the region.
Weber was rated among the “most conservative” members of the Texas House, based on a Rice University study of the 2011 legislative session.
Paul, who didn’t support federal emergency aid for Galveston after Hurricane Ike hit the island in September 2008, won’t be missed by some constituents. The storm caused dozens of deaths in Texas and property damage estimated at as much as $27 billion nationwide, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“I’m so sick and tired of ideology,” said Harris “Shrub” Kempner Jr., a Lampson supporter who is president of Kempner Capital Management Inc. in Galveston. “All Ron Paul was doing was promoting his ideology.”
To contact the reporter on this story: David Mildenberg in Austin, Texas, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at email@example.com.