The hunt is on in Southeast Texas for a Democrat to challenge U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi.
At first glance, it might seem like an absurd notion; Farenthold won re-election by a 2-to-1 margin in 2014. But some Democrats say they have designs on the seat because of the seediness of accusations against the third-term congressman in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him in 2014.
For now, the Democrats’ political point man for House races only speaks about Texas in broad tones.
“We’re looking for opportunities all over the country, wherever they may be,” U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico told The Texas Tribune last week.
“Texas is an important state to us,” he added. “There’s important opportunities all over the country. I would say we’re keeping an eye on all districts all over the states.”
Privately, at least four Washington Democratic insiders who are knowledgeable about party recruitment efforts say there is a serious effort to unseat Farenthold.
Maybe there is and maybe there isn’t. I’d love to see this happen, though even if it does this would be at best the second-tier target in Texas, with CD23’s freshman Rep. Will Hurd being #1 on the list whether or not Pete Gallego runs again as the DCCC wants him to. Farenthold’s ethical and behavioral issues are certainly a good club that can be used to attack him with, and as noted later in the story he’s neither a big fundraiser nor an accomplished campaigner. His large margin of victory in 2012 is somewhat misleading as he underperformed relative to his ballotmates. I should note that was not the case last year – I don’t feel like copying and pasting in the data, but Farenthold received 83,342 votes for 63.60% in 2014, and only Greg Abbott and Baby Bush did better than that.
But 2014 was a bad year, and 2016 is a Presidential year, with hope to do better. Finding a good candidate and investing the resources to boost turnout are good and worthwhile things. And in what is either an odd coincidence or an example of carefully planned timing, this story appeared later in the same day.
Former state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr. — the son of former U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz Sr., whom Farenthold defeated in 2010 — said he’s weighing a 2016 challenge against the Republican incumbent.
“I think a race for office is something that takes a lot of prayer and meditation and thought,” Ortiz Jr. said in a phone interview with The Texas Tribune. “And yes, obviously, I’m considering it.”
Besides Luján, Ortiz has discussed a possible run with his father.
“He was the guy here in South Texas who broke down barriers,” the younger Ortiz said of his father. “He knows what it takes to be an effective member of Congress,”
And the topic has come up in conversations with some Texas House colleagues: U.S. Reps. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth and Joaquin Castro of San Antonio.
The elder Ortiz’s loss to Farenthold in the 2010 Republican wave election was particularly bitter for Democrats. National Democratic operatives assumed Ortiz was in a safe Democratic seat, but Farenthold defeated him by 775 votes.
Ortiz Jr. lost his Texas House re-election bid that same year.
Should he run, Ortiz would benefit from his father’s name recognition. But this will not be the same district his father represented for nearly 30 years. State mapmakers made the district more strongly Republican during the 2011 redistricting.
As this story notes, Ortiz, Jr flirted with running in 2014, but (wisely, as it turned out) stayed on the sidelines. He says he’s more serious this time, but we’ll see. Going back to the first story, we have to be prepared for the possibility that this may be little more than a feint.
And winning the 27th District may not even be the objective for Democrats. It’s to cause trouble for Republicans.
One Democratic operative pointed out that the party lost so many seats in 2014 that Democrats are widely expected to be on offense in the fall of 2016. The theoretical aim would be to force Republicans to “squander resources” that would otherwise be used against Democratic challengers and incumbents. For them, a competitive race materializing at all in the 27th District would be a moral victory.
And then there is the fact that the DCCC’s online fundraising operation is the envy of American politics, a dynamic Farenthold’s troubles could play into.
“They can make an example of Blake Farenthold that can raise the Democrats oodles of money,” the Democratic operative added.
Yeah, count me out for that. I totally understand this from a strategic perspective, but we’ve been used for such purposes enough. Play to win here or don’t play. If Ortiz, Jr is in, that’s great. I’ll be sure to direct any donations I may make to his campaign. At least that way I know it would stay in Texas.