The Campaign Spot

Dreaming of an Unimaginable Upset in Dallas?

A reader in Dallas offers this fascinating report from his neck of the woods:

I’ve been a loyal reader dating back to you “Kerry Spot” days, but I’ve never previously had occasion to e-mail you.  I know you are keeping an eye out for potential upsets in U.S. House races that may be flying under the radar.  Although still a long shot, I believe we have a race here in the Dallas, Texas area that merits monitoring. 

As you know, TX-30 is a heavily gerrymandered “majority minority” district in the southern half of Dallas County that has been represented by Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson since its creation following the 1990 census.  I don’t want to “bury the lead” so here it is: campaign staff for the Republican challenger, Pastor Stephen Broden, are quietly claiming that they have a recent internal putting them only 6% behind “EBJ.”  If true, this is nothing short of remarkable.  

Some background on the TX-30 race may be helpful to put this startling number into context.  EBJ is a nine term incumbent who has never faced a serious challenger in either the Democratic primary of the general election.  She routinely wins reelection with in excess of 75% of the vote.  Arrogant, elderly and notoriously lazy, EBJ is so confident in her reelection that she hardly bothers to fundraise or campaign (she has never, to the best of my knowledge, run a radio or TV ad, and her war chest is pathetically small for an 18-year incumbent).  This year, however, several factors suddenly hint at a competitive race: 

1. The Republican nominee, Pastor Stephen Broden, is a credible African American candidate who has led a “missionary” church (i.e., a congregation that conducts outreach to drug addicts and the homeless)  in TX-30 for 22 years.  A graduate of the University of Michigan, Broden is a fixture in the South Dallas community and has real gravitas.  He is a powerful public speaker, in the finest tradition and style of the African American pulpit.  Broden has been tirelessly campaigning for over a year, and has reached out to voters who would never consider supporting a traditional Republican candidate.  

2. As you know, EBJ is plagued by the “scholarshipgate” scandal in which directed $31,000 in Congressional Black Caucus scholarship money to her two grandsons, two great nephews and  two children of her top district Aide.  EBJ’s damage control efforts have been nothing short of comic, including insulting her own constituents’ children by claiming that she gave the scholarships to her family members because there were “no other worthy” applicants in TX-30.  The scandal, which was broken by the Dallas Morning News, has received extensive local media coverage.

3. The Dallas Morning News has endorsed Broden, marking the first time that it has ever declined to endorse EBJ (a traditional favorite of that newspaper for her ability to bring home pork).  D Magazine (which is typically apolitical) fired off a powerful anti-EBJ entitled “America’s Worst Grandma”, and event the left-wing alternative Dallas Observer has been hard on EBJ and favorable to Pastor Broden. 

4. In the wake of the scholarship scandal, Broden is flush with cash and just yesterday announced a “major” purchase of local radio and TV time. This marks the first time that any EBJ opponent has been sufficiently well funded to take to the air.   

5.  TX-30 is demographically changing in ways that do not favor EBJ, as the “Uptown” area of Dallas has become filled with young, upwardly mobile professionals. There has also been a modest influx of residents to Downtown Dallas, most of whom are white collar workers.  Finally, several of the neighborhoods in closely proximity to Downtown have gentrified.

6. Beyond EBJ’s scandal problems, Broden, of course, has the gale-force national GOP wind at his back.  Moreover, with the dull-as-dishwater (and Anglo) Bill White heading a weak Democratic state-wide ticket in Texas, there is nothing to inflame the passions of  the African American voters in TX-30. There’s another indication that Broden may be within striking distance of EBJ.  As a Dallas attorney, I volunteer on the NRCC’s Texas legal response team.  I received an e-mail last night from the NRCC indicating that it expects possible election day legal action in three races in Texas:  “CD 23 (incumbent Ciro Rodriguez), CD 17 (incumbent Chet Edwards), and CD 30 (incumbent Eddie Bernice Johnson).”

I do not think Broden will ultimately win, but for the first time in her political life EBJ may actually be sweating a bit.  This has enormous consequences for both state-wide and down-the-ballot local races.  For example, Bill White has repeatedly told his key supporters that he can’t win Texas without winning 57% of the vote in Dallas County, and there is no way that can happen without massive straight-party voting for the Democrats.   Thus, at a minimum, Broden’s strong candidacy should disrupt the straight-party D voting in Dallas County that is so important to their party’s state-wide and local race efforts. 

Have no illusions; beating a 9-term incumbent in a D+27 district is phenomenally difficult. But check out Stephen Broden.


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