Texas Democrats are running competitive candidates in a number of state House races currently held by Republicans.
But a handful of deep-pocketed sources are helping Republicans outraise their opponents in many of those races, even in districts that Democrats view as likely pickups, according to a Texas Tribune review of campaign finance records in a dozen state House races widely considered the most competitive.
Groups like Empower Texans, the hard-line conservative group, and the powerful business group Texans for Lawsuit Reform are spending in a way that could provide a boost in the GOP’s fight to retain some of the most vulnerable of its 95 seats in the 150-member lower chamber.
Two political action committees affiliated with Empower Texans that are mainly funded by Midland oilman Tim Dunn and West Texas fracking billionaires Farris and Jo Ann Wilks combined to dish out roughly $1.2 million between July 1 through Sept. 27 in donations, advertising and consulting. That money helped bankroll campaigns for state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, and a few other GOP candidates locked in tight elections for state office.
In Rinaldi’s North Texas race, $200,000 of the $278,000 the incumbent received over the summer, campaign finance reports show, came from Empower Texans PAC and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility PAC, the other entity tied with the group. That boost helped Rinaldi handily outraise his Democratic opponent, Julie Johnson, who hauled $188,000 — a figure that included big-dollar in-kind contributions from Annie’s List and Texans for Insurance Reform.
Rinaldi has drawn the ire of Democrats for some of his hard-line conservative stances — and his district is nestled in Dallas County, which, thanks to changing demographics and Democratic enthusiasm, is home to a hotbed of competitive state House races this year.
Most of the money shelled out by GOP-aligned groups over the summer went toward playing defense. In a campaign season in which Democratic energy is high, there aren’t many seats viewed as pick-up opportunities for Republicans. Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, suggested that’s partly because the GOP has nearly maxed out the number of seats the party can realistically hold with the current state House map.
“Republicans have already picked up almost all the low hanging fruit,” Jones said.
Still, keeping as many seats as possible is especially important to Republicans this year, since the makeup of the lower chamber will impact the looming race for the next House speaker.