Dave Montgomery Austin Correspondent
AUSTIN – As Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis seeks to move up to the governor’s office, the race to represent her Tarrant County senate district is becoming a high-stakes scramble, with both parties targeting District 10 as one of their top priorities in the 2014 election year. As the Dec. 9 candidate filing deadline nears, five Republicans have declared their candidacy in the March 4 GOP primary, vying for the nomination to help their party win back a coveted district that Davis seized from a Republican incumbent in 2008. The Democratic primary has thus far attracted two candidates – businessman Mike Martinez and neighborhood activist Libby Willis. Trial lawyer George Boll has sent signals that he is leaning toward running.
Still other candidates could widen the Democratic and Republican fields before the filing deadline, further intensifying what political experts have predicted from the minute Davis decided to enter the governor’s race – a highly energized primary season followed by a bruising general election campaign to choose Davis’ successor on Nov. 4. The current five-way Republican contest is easily the biggest GOP field that District 10 voters have seen in years. The contenders include former state Rep. Mark Shelton of Fort Worth, who was Davis’ general election challenger in 2010, and tea party activist Konni Burton, businessman Mark Skinner, Arlington school trustee Tony Pompa and chiropractor Jon Schweitzer. Three of the Republican candidates – Burton, Skinner and Schweitzer – are from Colleyville, a Republican stronghold at the upper northeast edge of the district. Boll is also a Colleyville resident, and, like Skinner, formerly served on the Colleyville City Council. Democratic and Republican headquarters planned to suspend candidate filings during the Thanksgiving holidays but were to reopen Dec. 2 to begin the final week of processing the filings. Candidates are expected to accelerate campaigning after their primary battles fully take shape at the end of the month-long filing period.
“They’re all doing leg work right now,” said TCU political science professor Jim Riddlesperger. “Everybody’s trying to raise money, they’re trying to put together a campaign team. They’re trying to find out the things that might work in their primary.” Although the governor’s race will obviously be the main event in next year’s elections, the battle for Senate District 10 will undoubtedly rank as one of Texas’ mostly closely watched contests in 2014 as Republicans pour in money and resources to try to reclaim the district and Democrats campaign just as aggressively to try to keep it. Since taking over the District 10 Senate seat in January 2009, Davis often harangued Republicans from Gov. Rick Perry on down as she championed Democratic initiatives. She waged two filibusters against the Republican leadership in the course of her Senate career, including last summer’s 10-hour-plus talkathon against a Republican-backed abortion bill that propelled her into political stardom and fueled her entry into the governor’s race. Consequently, Davis’ Senate track record has become an issue in the race to succeed her. The Republican contenders have assailed her stand on the abortion bill, which later became law, along with what they contend is a liberal agenda more in keeping with the Obama administration than with conservative Texans.
In contrast, Willis and Martinez, who are both pro-choice and oppose the abortion-restriction law, have praised Davis’ stewardship of the district while saying they would put their own stamp on the office in championing issues such as education and economic growth. Senate District 10 covers the southern half of Tarrant County, with a finger of the district stretching north into Republican strongholds to encompass all of Colleyville and parts of Bedford and Southlake. It includes more than 834,000 people – nearly 60 percent of Fort Worth’s residents and nearly half of Arlington’s, as well as parts of Forest Hill, Everman, Kennedale, Mansfield and Crowley. The district was once considered a relatively strong Republican district but demographic changes and the growth of Hispanic and African-American populations have made it more of a swing district that could tilt either way in a general election. “It’s an open seat [offering] an opportunity for people with progressive ambitions to move up into a higher-profile place and then have more political influence,” said Riddlesperger. “It could very easily have a very closely fought election.”