With so much press attention paid in Texas and nationally to the hard-fought Republican U.S. Senate run-off Tuesday, the political reporter can be forgiven for overlooking the equally hard-fought run-off for the GOP nod in the newly-carved 36th U.S. House district.
But make no mistake about it: the contest in the 36th between former one-term Rep. Steve Stockman and political newcomer and financial planner Steve Takach is as contentious and politically significant as that between David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz for the Senate nomination the same day. As in the Senate race, the run-off Tuesday is tantamount to election in the strongly Republican-leaning 36th.
The results of the 12-candidate May primary in the 36th District left most political observers dumbfounded and aghast. The top vote-getters were candidates never previously thought to be in the running: first-time candidate Takach getting 22 percent, and Stockman, who last held office sixteen years ago, a few hundred votes behind him with 21 percent. State Sen. Mike Jackson, for whom the district was reportedly carved by the Republican-controlled legislature, came in third.
In the contest of ‚??Stephen vs. Steve,‚?Ě both candidates want to repeal Obamacare, opposed amnesty for illegal aliens, support tax cuts and are strongly pro-life. Takach, an accountant, has spent $450,000 — most of it his own money — on a media-based campaign. To call him the ‚??establishment‚?Ě candidate, however, is inaccurate, since Takach has not been a presence in Republican politics and many party activists who backed Jackson and other candidates are keeping their powder dry in the run-off.
Stockman (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 100 percent) has the backing of several national conservative organizations, notably Gun Owners of America and Citizens United. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) has also endorsed Stockman. In an echo from the past, born-again Christian Stockman has run a campaign much like that of many evangelical conservative candidates of the 1970‚??s and 80‚??s: eschewing interviews and public appearances and focusing on turning out his base. A generation ago, this was known in political short-hand as ‚??working the churches.‚?Ě These days, this process involves groups other than churches — notably the ‚??tea party‚?Ě movement — and makes wide use of the Internet.
Earlier this year, the 55-year-old Stockman pointed out to Human Events that the new district includes about one-third of the old 9th District he represented from 1994 until he narrowly lost in ‚??96, ‚??and the [new] district has a lot of senior citizens who remember me from when I was their congressman and say they still support me.‚?Ě
There are other opinions. One Republican activist from Nassau Bay (in the 36th) who requested anonymity told us: ‚??There is some lingering anger toward Stockman for being too associated with very conservative associations when he was in Congress. And people I talked to felt he had not done much to heal those old wounds.‚?Ě
When we asked if he would support Takach, the same Republican told us: ‚??Can‚??t say. I don‚??t really know him that well.‚?Ě
It seems safe to say that a lot of other Republicans will be making up their minds on Tuesday, when they turn out to make a choice between two candidates that few ever expected.