As early voting begins in Texas’ Republican congressional runoffs, just about every race has devolved into a battle over which candidate supports President Donald Trump more. Nearly all six of the Republican congressional runoffs in Texas have turned into a pitched battle over who supports the president more or who has done just about anything that could be construed as anti-Trump. The super PAC of the Club for Growth, a national conservative group as spent more than $2 million on Texas primaries and runoffs this election cycle. Most of that money was spent on ads trumpeting their candidates as Trump allies and attacking their opponents as hostile to the president.
David McIntosh, the Club for Growth’s president, said polling shows Trump remains very popular among Texas primary voters, with his approval rating topping 90 percent in some districts. “Republican primary voters — very much so in Texas but also around the country — want Congress to defend the president” and advance his agenda, McIntosh said.
In the 5th Congressional District, the Club has endorsed Bunni Pounds for the seat and spent lavishly to portray her opponent, state Rep. Lance Gooden of Terrell, as out of step with Trump on his tax policy. In the 27th Congressional District, the Club has spent more than half a million dollars backing candidate Michael Cloud in the runoff and savaging his rival, Bech Bruun, as a “career bureaucrat” and “swamp creature” while highlighting Bruun’s opposition to term limits. In the 21st District — where the Club has endorsed Chip Roy — it has even tried to drive a a wedge between Roy’s opponent, Matt McCall, and Trump by comparing McCall to U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Ironically, the Club was against Trump before they were for Trump – spending millions of dollars trying to defeat him in the 2016 primary. That has not gone unnoticed by the Texas candidates the Club is currently bashing.
Even in races where the Club is not involved, support or lack-thereof is a hammer to be used to campaign against opponents. In the runoff for the 2nd Congressional District — Houston state Rep. Kevin Roberts has seized on a series of years-old Facebook posts from his opponent, Dan Crenshaw, to paint him as unfriendly to Trump. A big-spending super PAC called Conservative Results Matter has also followed the Club’s lead, creating a dramatic TV ad that labels Crenshaw an “anti-Trump liberal.” For all this effort to make presidential loyalty a central issue in the runoffs, the strategy had mixed results in the March 6 primaries. While it worked to defeat some candidates, there were ample examples of candidates who embraced Trump yet did not make the cut.
Trump himself has not weighed in on any of the Texas congressional races, even as he has endorsed — and, in some cases, re-endorsed — all of Texas’ statewide officials for re-election. Privately, some GOP operatives involved in the races acknowledge how absurd the battle for the pro-Trump upper hand has become. One likened it to a “game of limbo” where candidates are seeing how low they can go to position themselves as the most pro-Trump name on the ballot. Democratic candidates believe that their GOP rivals are making a deal with the devil, embracing the president to win over hardcore party loyalists in the primary, only to find a much less receptive electorate awaiting them in November.
The Club is not planning to let up in the final days before the May 22 runoffs.
For more: Texas Tribune