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Texas: Ron Paul Battles to Stay in Congress

By Hastings Wyman
Southern Political Report

February 27, 2008US Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), 72, has represented the 14th District in Texas for 20 years, and while he has faced some serious Democratic challengers in the past, this year he is confronting a major battle in the Republican Primary. His opponent is Chris Peden, mayor pro tem of Friendswood. Whether or not the race is close is a matter of conjecture. No independent polls have been released and both camps claim their internal surveys show them with comfortable leads. Mark Elam, Paul’s congressional campaign manager, blogging on the Lone Star Times website, contends Paul is leading by about 60% to 20% and that this result has been confirmed by their voter ID phone calls. Peden’s camp claims their polling shows Peden with a 43%-32% lead over Paul. Paul is currently running radio ads across the district. (Peden’s campaign issued a release claiming one ad, which contends the Congressional Quarterly had once named Paul one of the 50 most effective members of congress, was erroneous.)

Journalists and other observers of the district’s politics are uncertain how close the race will be. “Every election cycle people criticize [Paul] for the same things he’s saying his presidential campaign and he always gets re-elected,” says The Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg. But “it’s a race,” says another insider; “Chris Peden is really taking advantage of the opportunity with Ron Paul running around the country and not paying attention to his home base.”  Paul, however, has in recent weeks shifted his attention to his campaign for re-election to Congress.

Despite his political eccentricities, Paul is “something of an institution,” writes Galveston County Daily News reporter Marty Schladen. An obstetrician by profession, Paul’s major claim to fame is his stalwart belief in a libertarian philosophy of government. In 1988, he was the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee and has espoused that same philosophy in his current campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. While this has drawn him considerable notice and support across the nation, it often puts him at odds with the needs of his district. Although he gets good marks for his constituent service, some of the local business and political establishment is less pleased with his principled neglect of obtaining “pork” for the district. And one local observer says that a number of Republican activists in the district have indicated their displeasure with Paul, in part because of his attacks on President Bush’s policies.

Chris Peden, 43, is a CPA and as a local official, has a record of cutting taxes in Friendswood, a city of some 34,000. Peden, a strong conservative, is criticizing Paul for straying from the GOP line more than any other member of Congress and for neglecting the needs of his district. One Peden campaign press release alleges that Paul “does not support fighting the Global War on Terror” and has not supported federal funds for NASA, which is a major employer in the district. And Peden, noting that the district has more ports than any other district in the nation, is calling for more federal funds for shoreline security measures. Peden has been endorsed by the Victoria Advocate and the Galveston County Daily News, and is getting favorable commentary from radio talk shows on KSEV-AM.

As of December 31, 2007, Paul had $66,000 cash on hand to Peden’s $144,000.  Paul is not allowed to use his presidential campaign funds in his congressional races, but, according to Elam’s blog, has raised an additional $1 million for his 14th District campaign in the last several weeks.

The district stretches along the Texas Gulf Coast from Beaumont to Corpus Christi and is characterized mainly by small towns and rural areas. There is no Democratic candidate for this seat so the Republican Primary on March 4 is tantamount to election.  Early voting started on February 19 and according to news reports has been much higher than in past years.

Primary: Leans Paul. General Election: Safe Republican.

   
   

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