The man who engineered the 2010 Republican takeover of the House is racing to save himself in his own election this year — and he admits, in so many words, that President Donald Trump isn’t helping.
Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, a longtime party leader and former House GOP campaign chief, is confronting a treacherous political landscape back at home — a well-funded Democratic opponent with a boffo résumé, a rapidly diversifying and more liberal district, and, perhaps most critically, a constituency of well-educated and upper-income suburban voters who increasingly are turning on the president.
His predicament underscores the grave danger confronting Republicans this fall. As the party braces for an electoral drubbing that threatens to wipe out the majority they won eight years ago, the list of incumbents under duress is growing ever longer — and even powerful lawmakers like Sessions, a sharp-elbowed tactician who hasn’t faced a serious reelection contest in over a decade, are suddenly trying to survive a Trump-fueled bloodbath. In Texas alone, Democrats are targeting three Republican incumbents who’ve been in office for over a decade.
In an interview this week, Sessions, who was first elected in 1996, was careful not to overtly criticize the president — he praised some aspects of Trump’s record, including on national security. But the Texas congressman pointedly declined to say whether he’d campaign as an ally of the president, who narrowly lost Sessions’ North Dallas district in 2016. And he appeared to concede that some in the business-friendly area — which is home to a number of prominent country club-style Republicans, including former President George W. Bush — have soured on the bombastic commander in chief.
It’s a far cry from 2010, when Sessions, then the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, helped to orchestrate a historic 63-seat wave that catapulted his party into power.
Sessions took a startlingly aggressive approach to target powerful Democrats long seen as politically untouchable, recruiting challengers against powerful committee chairmen and other veteran lawmakers who hadn’t faced tough races in years. Many were caught flat-footed and either lost their races or chose not to seek reelection.
This time, the roles are reversed — and it’s Sessions, now serving as the gavel-holder on the influential Rules Committee, who’s under siege.
The prospect of exacting revenge on the Texas congressman has thrilled national Democrats. A super PAC allied with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi plans to spend over $2 million on TV ads in support of Sessions’ opponent, Colin Allred, a former NFL player-turned-attorney and ex-Obama administration official. Major party figures, including former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, are flooding into the district to campaign with the 35-year-old upstart.
We know Sessions hasn’t faced a serious challenger since the 2011 redistricting. As it happens, the best-funded opponent he’s had since defeating Martin Frost in 2004 was in 2010, when Grier Raggio raised $669K. Still, add that to the totals of his 2008 and 2006 opponents, plus the ones from this decade, and it’s still less than what Colin Allred has raised so far. Money isn’t everything, of course, and CD32 was still basically a 12-point district in 2016 outside of the Presidential race. G. Elliott Morris currently gives Dems a 40.7% chance of winning there; for comparison, he has CD07 at 51.2% and CD23 at a whopping 84.7% to flip. Sessions is a big fundraiser and has a reputation as a tough campaigner. Beating him won’t be easy. But it sure would be awesome.