February 12, 2020
Trump Throws Muscle that Could Have Double-Edge
Behind Trio of Texas Republican Congress Hopefuls
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
A couple of Republican congressional candidates will be hoping that President Donald Trump's enthusiastic support for their campaigns won't be radioactive in Texas districts that Democrats carried at the top of the ticket in 2018.
Trump tweeted endorsements on Wednesday to Wesley Hunt of Houston, August Pfluger of San Angelo and Beth Van Duyne of Irving for U.S. House races that will feature crowded GOP fields on the primary ballot less than three weeks from now. All three of the congressional contenders who Trump rallied behind today on social media have appeared to the primary favorites based on substantial fundraising advantages that they've enjoyed up to now.
Pfluger appears to have nothing to lose from the Trump thumbs up in a heavily-Republican West Texas district that the president carried in 2016 with more than three out of every votes that were cast in the general election that year. But the Trump love might not be enough to lift Pfluger to an outright victory on March 3 in Congressional District 11 where a total of 13 Republicans are competing for the nomination in open battle that could be destined for overtime.
The Trump endorsements could boost the odds for Hunt and Van Duyne wins next month without the need for runoffs in districts where they don't have near as much first-round competition as Pfluger does in CD 11. But the president's support has the potential to backfire for Van Duyne and Hunt in swing districts where Trump had been a drain on the GOP's down-ballot candidates in the last two election cycles.
Hunt has appeared to be a significant frontrunner over three primary foes in fight for the Congressional District 7 seat that Democratic U.S. Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Houston wrestles away from the GOP in 2018 when she ousted a longtime incumbent for the GOP. Trump lost to Hillary Clinton in CD 7 by more than one percentage point in 2016 before Democrat Beto O'Rourke beat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz there by 7 points two years later. Fletcher fare almost as well as O'Rourke when she defeated veteran lawmaker John Culberson with a five-point margin of victory.
Hunt, who's black, has proven to be prolific fundraiser after rounding up more than $1.3 million in 2019 for a race in a district where Cindy Siegel has been his closest competitor in that respect with contributions and loans that have added up to more than $425,000. Republicans Maria Espinoza and Laique Rehman will be on the GOP ballot in the CD 7 race as well.
Van Duyne - a former Irving mayor who joined the Trump administration two years ago as a Health & Human Services Department official - has had a substantial money advantage over GOP foe Sunny Chaparala of Dallas in a Congressional District 24 field that includes Republicans David Fegan, Jeron Liverman and Desi Maes. Van Duyne and Chaparala reported contributions of $586,000 and $322,000 respectively last year in the battle for the seat that veteran Republican U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant of Coppell is giving up without a re-election race this year.
But CD 24 has been on the verge blue in a swath of Dallas County where O'Rourke edged out Cruz by almost 3 percentage points after Trump beat Clinton there by 6 two years earlier. Marchant narrowly survived the Texas blue wave 15 months ago when he beat a Democratic challenger with minimal funding by a mere 3 points.
Pfluger and Hunt are both combat veterans. Pfluger had been a Trump advisor on the National Security Council staff before launching a bid last year to replace outgoing Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway of Midland in CD 11.
Hunt created a stir among some conservatives last year when he acknowledged that he'd voted in the Democratic primary election in Texas in 2008. But Hunt contender that he'd crossed party lines at the urging of conservative commentator Rush Linbaugh as part of a so-called Operation Chaos initiative that was designed to propel Clinton over Barack Obama in the Democratic primary that year.
Hunt has alleviated concerns about his GOP devotion by vowing for the past several months to stand by Trump if elected to Congress this year.