by BEN PHILPOTT
State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, expected a tough fight in the GOP primary for Senate District 25. But instead, he has been tussling with Dr. Donna Campbell, a political newcomer who has broad Tea Party support.
Campbell came into the primary with a fraction of the money that was being collected and spent by Elizabeth Ames Jones and Jeff Wentworth. But in forcing a runoff, Campbell found increased interest and increased donations. The campaign is now using that money to introduce Campbell to voters, especially in Bexar County, Wentworth’s home.
“I’m the only candidate who has pledged not to raise taxes,” Campbell says in a radio ad. “I joined Gov. Perry and signed the Texas Budget Compact. That means no new taxes and a hard cap on spending. I know our taxes are too high. I live here, and I pay the same taxes you do.”
Campbell had said she would not take donations from the Texans for Lawsuit Reform, or TLR, the group that gave more than $700,000 to the Ames Jones campaign for the May primary. But Campbell did accept an in-kind gift of $18,000 for results from a poll conducted by TLR. Even if she doesn’t take another dime, TLR has plenty of money flooding mailboxes and the airwaves with reasons not to vote for Wentworth.
“Between Jeff Wentworth and Donna Campbell, only one had $1 million or $2 million in negative ads run against them,” says Harvey Kronberg, editor of The Quorum Report, a political newsletter. “So Wentworth has a high hurdle to jump, having been so identified by his prior opponent.”
That may be why, after a particularly negative primary, Wentworth has gone positive with his runoff ads, reminding voters all he’s done for the district during his 19 years in the Senate.
“Jeff Wentworth is constantly fighting for new roads to deal with our exploding population,” one ad says. “He hates traffic jams. We have thousands of new jobs and billions in new investments, thanks to Jeff Wentworth.”
But turnout in any runoff, especially in the middle of summer, traditionally favors candidates supported by party activists. The more passionate the voter, the better the chance they’ll make it to the polls. In the northern part of Senate District 25, from Travis, through Hays and into Comal County, support for the Tea Party is strong among Republicans. As is support for Campbell. And in Bexar County, conservative activists were already organized as part of a failed attempt to oust House Speaker Joe Straus.
“There was actually a Tea Party-style operation in play in that part of the district,” Kronberg says.
He says the group hosted a teleconference as recently as Sunday night on behalf of Campbell.
The winner of the Republican Primary will face Democrat John Courage in November.
BEN PHILPOTT reports for KUT News where this story was originally broadcast. It is re-aired here through a news partnership between The Texas Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.
COVER: TEXAS TRIBUNE PHOTO ILLUSTRATION by MARJORIE KAMYS COTERA, SPENCER SELVIDGE