Pete Sessions is a dead-lock cinch to win re-election to the U.S. House in November. He has won every race since 1996 with a minimum of fuss, even against long-time Democratic U.S. Rep. Martin Frost in 2004. His 32nd district seat, which includes parts of East Dallas, Lake Highlands, Preston Hollow and North Dallas, is about as safe as Republican House seats get. He has been mentioned as a U.S. Senate candidate if Kay Bailey Hutchinson doesn’t run for re-election in 2010. And, if that’s not enough, he has $864,000 on hand for the general election. His two potential opponents, who have a runoff April 8, don’t have 10 percent of that between them.
So why am I writing this?
Because Saturday, one of the safest Republican House seats in the country went to a Democrat. A physicist won the Chicago suburban district ruled for the last 21 years by former House speaker Dennis Hastert. I know those suburbs (lived and worked there), and they should be as dependably GOP as the Park Cities. George Bush got 56 percent of its vote in 2004, but the party got just 47 percent this time around. If the Democrats can win the 21st, can they win anywhere?
Perhaps. But there are some notable differences between the Illinois district and our 32nd. The Illinois Republican candidate, though more high-profile than Sessions, was also more controversial, which hurt him with moderate GOP voters. Sessions has spent much of his 11-plus years in the House under the radar, and even his controversies have received little attention. Does anyone remember when he had a bit part in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal?
In addition, the Democrats had $1.5 million to spend in Illinois, and there doesn’t seem to be much chance of Eric Roberson or Steve Love, who are in the runoff here, getting anywhere near that.
Yet each ran aggressive campaigns in the primary. I got recorded phone calls from both, and when is the last time that happened in a Democratic primary in Dallas?
The runoff will be fun, too. Love accuses Roberson of being a Republican. The latter did come out of nowhere to get the most votes in the first round, with 45 percent to Love’s 33. And Roberson has staked out a position that few of Sessions’ previous challengers, including Frost, wanted to take: He is against the Iraq War (and served in the Navy during the first Gulf War), supports Roe v. Wade, and calls Sessions a GOP extremist. Frost, on the other hand, ran campaign ads painting him as Bush’s congressional ally.
I still don’t expect Roberson or Love to beat Sessions. This remains a rock-solid Republican area, even if I have been accused of not seeing the forest for the trees. Two state house races should be closer — Bill Keffer vs. Democratic incumbent Allen Vaught in District 107 (Lake Highlands and East Dallas) and Carol Kent vs. Republican incumbent Tony Goolsby in District 102 (Lake Highlands and North Dallas). If Vaught and Kent both win — not likely, but possible — the 32nd district race in 2010 might be closer.