By far, the showdown for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in Texas July 31 between Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz is the hardest-fought and most mean-spirited Senate run-off in the Lone Star State in 64 years. That was the storied 1948 race, in which the young Rep. Lyndon Johnson defeated former Gov. Coke Stevenson in the Democratic run-off by a still-disputed 87 votes.
But the next-most-watched run-off in Texas at the end of the month is surely in the new 36th U.S. House District. In the initial Republican primary in May, pundits and pols were stunned by who placed a very close second in the ten-candidate: Steve Stockman, former one-term House Member (1994-96) from the neighboring district, conservative swashbuckler (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 100 percent), and inarguably one of the most colorful characters on the contemporary Texas political scene.
A onetime homeless person — ‚??‚??Vagrant‚?? is the word the liberal press used always for me‚?Ě — turned born-again Christian and accountant, Stockman became one of the genuine ‚??stars‚?Ě of the ‚??Gingrich class‚?Ě of Republicans who gave their party control of the House in 1994. On his third try, Stockman ousted 42-year Rep. Jack Brooks, cactus-tongued Democrat and chairman of the House Government Operations Committee.
During his single stint in the House, Stockman embraced social issues with vigor. Staunchly pro-life, he also championed the right to keep and bear arms and early in his term, called for repeal of the Brady Bill. Much like the young Republican Jesse Helms (N.C.) and William L. Armstrong (Colo.) in the Senate in the 1970s, Stockman became a vigorous supporter of national conservative organizations outside Congress.
But in 1996, a court order struck down the boundaries of several districts in Texas and Stockman was forced to compete in an unusual race with the intial contest in November and a run-off in December — ‚??the same days as my wedding anniversary,‚?Ě recalled Stockman. He led in the first race but lost the runoff to Democrat Nick Lampson.
Now, at 55 and a bit greyer, 16 years after he was last in Congress and 14 years after his last race for office (a losing bid for nomination as state railroad commissioner), Stockman is back. In winning about 21 percent in the primary, he was slightly edged out of first place by millionaire financial planner Steve Takasch (22 percent). But what was most impressive about Stockman‚??s showing was that it was accomplished with a five-figure budget of almost exclusively small donations and a volunteer campaign organization. The favorite for the race, State Sen. Mike Jackson, placed third.
As to how he got where he did, Stockman told Human Events that ‚??there is a very conservative evangelical community here, a strong ‚??tea party group‚?? that backed me, and early support from national conservative groups — Gun Owners of America and Citizens United.‚?Ě But, he noted, the major factor in his favor was the makeup of the 36th District — ‚??and it includes quite a bit of the [9th District] I used to represent. And with more than one-third of it made of senior citizens, a lot of folks come up to me and say ‚??I remember when you were my congressman.‚?? And they turn out to vote — even in our July weather in Texas.‚?Ě
Takasch is also campaigning as a strong conservative. But, Stockman notes, ‚??his website says nothing about pro-life, the Second Amendment, or social issues in general — the things I led on.‚?Ě
The 36th District is overwhelming Republican and the winner of the runoff July 31 is considered a cinch to go to Congress. Clearly, a comeback after sixteen years is impressive and few have managed to return after such a long sabbatical from office. Democrat Jeanette Rankin, who was elected to the House from Montana in 1916 and lost in 1918 after she voted against the U.S. going into World War I, did manage to come back to Congress in 1940 — but lost again in 1942 after voting against going into World War II.
Whether Steve Stockman can manage a similar accomplishment will easily be one of the major political stories from Texas later this month — and one the nation‚??s political punditocracy will be closely watching.