The race between a longtime – and powerful – Fort Worth voice in Washington, D.C., and a well-funded challenger has become a slugfest as the two Republican candidates scramble to convince voters who is the more bona-fide conservative.
Seeking a 13th term, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, is facing her first challenge for the U.S. House District 12 seat since 2012 and the toughest primary fight since her first run in 1996.
The race is drawing national attention with money and endorsements flowing in from donors and major third-party organizations, which are splitting support between the two candidates.
Chris Putnam, a businessman and former Colleyville City Council member and Mayor Pro-Tem, entered the race as a conservative activist, riding the coattails of President Donald Trump with an agenda that mimics the president’s on immigration, unfettered gun rights, lower taxes and border security.
Despite that, it is Granger who picked up the coveted endorsement of Trump.
Trump’s endorsement was a huge boost for Granger as she plays defense against an opponent who is running to the far right. She has followed up that endorsement by taking a public stand after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi publicly tore Trump’s State of the Union address on Feb. 4. The next day, Granger introduced a privileged resolution, H. Res. 832, strongly disapproving of Pelosi’s actions.
“Speaker Pelosi’s actions last night were appalling and shameful. Regardless of her personal feelings, she had a responsibility to conduct herself with civility as the presiding officer representing the House of Representatives,” she said on the floor. “She is not the Speaker of the Democrats, but of the People’s House.”
Putnam, meanwhile, has taken Granger to task over her voting record, past support of abortion rights as well as upheaval and problems connected to the $1.17 billion Panther Island project in Fort Worth, which she has shepherded since its inception about 20 years ago.
As an experienced lawmaker and the ranking Republican on the powerful U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Granger is regarded as one of the most powerful members of Congress, who has delivered for the 12th District, particularly with lucrative government defense contracts for aerospace manufacturers Lockheed Martin and Bell.
Although the former Fort Worth mayor is predicted to win, there is no guarantee, according to political observers.
“Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was not expected to beat the incumbent, Joe Crowley, in the 2018 Democratic primary,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. “Nobody saw it coming.”
But politics have changed in the era of Trump, Riddlesperger said.
“Every race, even down-ballot races, are national races now,” he said. “Voters make choices based on their feelings about Donald Trump.”
The 12th District is regarded as a safe Republican district so the primary winner likely will win the seat in the general election, he said. Besides part of Tarrant County, the district includes Parker County and part of Wise County.
Granger has had the good fortune of avoiding primary contests during most of the 23 years she has served in Congress.
But that long track record also makes her a target for an ambitious challenger like Putnam, who is to eager to expose contradictions and inconsistencies in her long public record to undermine her claims of being an authentic conservative.
“He has her on the run,” Fort Worth political strategist Tom Stallings said of Putnam. “He and his team are using her record to make her seem vulnerable, and in politics, perception is reality.”
In December, Trump announced his endorsement on Twitter that “Kay has my complete and total endorsement!” He cited her for being strong on “securing our border” and being “100% pro-life.”
Granger also has the endorsement of the National Right to Life organization, while Putnam has the backing of the Texas affiliate, Texas Right to Life.
Granger also has the support of many other third-party organizations, include the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Republic leadership.
But it is Putnam who has the backing of top influential conservatives including Club for Growth and Empower Texans. Club for Growth stepped up the vitriol through a mailer connecting her and her son, J.D. Granger, with Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
The ad, paid for by the Club for Growth Action, labels the Grangers and the Bidens as “CareerFellas,” who are “crooked” politicians. “Decades in Power. Enriching Your Kid.”
Putnam has been aggressive in his attacks on Granger’s record, pointing to a video clip of her 2016 call for Trump to drop out of the presidential race after a video surfaced that contained footage of him bragging about groping women. Putnam also has railed extensively against her past pro-choice position.
“Ms. Granger is at best a liberal Republican by any standard as evidenced by her voting record, public statements about being a ‘pro-choice Republican’ and D’s and F’s on scorecards, including Heritage Action, FreeWorks and Conservative Review,” Putnam campaign manager Karin Dyer said in a statement to the Fort Worth Business Press.
“We believe the Congressional district is deeply divided politically, socially conservative and deserves representation that represents those values,” she said.
Putnam and his campaign have pummeled Granger on conservative talk radio, in campaign appearances and social media about her record.
Besides attacking her Congressional record, Putnam’s campaign has lambasted her for in role in the Panther Island project, which has been criticized for runaway costs, inability to attract critical federal funding in recent years and nepotism connected to the role of her son, J.D. Granger, who served as executive director until a recent reorganization of the agency that oversees the project.
J.D. Granger has been shifted into a narrower role but continues to earn a salary of more than $200,000 a year.
“Panther Island is sadly a monument to exactly the type of waste, corruption and nepotism we see increasingly out of Washington career politicians like Ms. Granger,” Dyer said.
Granger has swiped back by releasing a series of endorsements from influential organizations such as the Texas Alliance for Life PAC, the Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund, an anti-abortion group, and individuals such as Texas GOP state Reps. Charlie Geren, Craig Goldman and Phil King.
She also rolled out her own radio and TV ads, capitalizing on her endorsement from Trump and highlighting her ability to deliver results for her district and her support of Trump’s efforts to build a wall to secure the border.
“Kay is proud of her conservative record in Congress,” Granger campaign spokesman Keats Norfleet said in a statement to the Fort Worth Business Press. “She’s fought to secure our border and stop illegal immigration. She led Republicans in Congress to pass the biggest tax cut in recent history, and create so many jobs that unemployment is now at a record low.”
Also, “she’s worked with President Trump and other Republicans to protect our Constitutional right to bear arms, to rebuild our military and support our troops, to keep America safe from radical Islamic terrorists, and to protect the sanctity of life,” he said.
Norfleet also lashed out at Putnam, who “is not from the district, doesn’t own property in the district and has never served the local community.”
As for fundraising, Granger has the clear advantage.
After raising $206,000 and loaning his campaign $250,000 in the third quarter of 2019, Putnam’s contributions slowed in the fourth quarter, when he took in $80,000, including $9,000 of his own money.
Meanwhile, Granger posted $419,000 in contributions during the fourth quarter. She reported having $774,000 cash on hand to Putnam’s $407,000.