by JENNIFER BIUNDO
In 2002, a 24-year-old Princeton graduate named Patrick Rose made an audacious run for the Texas House of Representatives, stealing the District 45 seat away from GOP incumbent Rick Green by a spare margin of less than one percent.
Eight years later, Rose was the seasoned veteran, and his challenger Jason Isaac was widely viewed the long-shot. But Isaac defied the initial odds Tuesday night, rolling to a decisive victory in one of the biggest upsets in the state.
“I’m an optimist,” Isaac said, surrounded by jubilant supporters at the GOP watch party in Driftwood Tuesday night. “I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I thought I had a shot from the get-go.”
Isaac took more than 54 percent of the 51,000 ballots cast in the three-county district, beating the four-term incumbent with a 4,000-vote margin. Caldwell County gave Rose a slim 90-vote lead out of more than 8,200 ballots cast, but both Blanco and Hays firmly threw their weight behind Isaac.
“I don’t think the three counties are as surprised as all the special interests and lobbyists are outside of the district,” Isaac said.
Mirroring the national sentiment that brought the Republican Party a congressional majority, election night in Hays County saw sweeping victories for the GOP across the board. Not a single Democrat in Hays County survived a contested race.
Statewide, the GOP widened their 77-75 majority in the Texas House into a 98-50 block, with two seats undecided as of press time. Texas also lost three Democrat congressmen.
While acknowledging that the red wave played a role in his victory, Isaac also said he played his cards right, with the help of numerous supporters and volunteers.
“We’ve just been working our tail off,” Isaac said. “I really think I marketed myself right by getting out front and visiting with people and letting them know I’m genuine and I’m reasonable, and I’m willing to listen. I’m not going to rush to judgment. I’m going to learn and listen. I’m going to spend time with people I disagree with.”
Hays County GOP Party Chair Bud Wymore agreed.
“He worked so very hard from day one,” Wymore said of Isaac. “He made the phone calls, he walked the blocks, he shook the hands. What we’ve seen tonight are the fruits of his very hard work, and we couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Savvy use of media also helped steer Isaac to victory. Both the Rose and Isaac campaigns culminated in a series of negative TV commercials, with Rose taking jibes at Isaac’s potential support of sales tax increases and Isaac painting Rose as a “tax and spend liberal.”
“I know the commercials really got down on people, but we found out early, we’ve got to let people know what his record was,” Isaac said. “His record was left of his district, I think significantly.”
Unlike the other underfunded challengers Rose has faced in the last three elections, Isaac was playing with a nearly-full war chest that had room for expensive TV ads. Through the campaign, Isaac reported $350,000 in contributions and $510,000 in expenditures, supplementing the balance with a $350,000 loan from prominent Dripping Springs businessman Robert H. Seale.
Rose, meanwhile, raised about $800,000 and spent about $950,000. By the time the final round of campaign finance reports come due, the total tally for both candidates could approach $2 million.
Isaac said that he reached out to Seale, whom he knew from coaching his son in lacrosse, and asked him in January to help out in a leadership capacity. Seale responded by donating $100,000 to Isaac that summer.
“He is a competitive person and took it to a whole new level,” Isaac said.
Isaac said he initially refused Seale’s offer of the $350,000 loan, but realized it might be the only way to win the race.
“I’m not a big fan of debt, but we were fighting special interests, we were fighting Austin-style politics, we were fighting a political machine,” Isaac said. “That’s when I realized we need to look at this loan.”
With the election in the bag, Isaac said that his first priority in office would be to reduce spending while also providing tax relief to businesses and homeowners. Though the state is facing a record budget shortfall that could climb to $25 billion, Isaac said he was confident that he was up to the challenge.
“We’re sending a businessperson into a financial monstrosity,” Isaac said. “I really feel like I’m going to hit the ground running.”
In other priorities, Isaac said he wanted to improve retirement funds for teachers, while cutting “bloated” retirement funds for legislators.
“I think it’s an incentive for people to stay in office too long,” Isaac said.
Jen Biundo is senior reporter at the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the Mercury.