Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, center, is seen during the opening session of the 82nd Texas Legislature, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Eyeing a runoff in Senate District 1

Open Senate seats don't come around often, so when someone, usually a House lawmaker, eyes a spot in the upper chamber, it comes with a lot of deliberation.

Beyond the usual conversations about opponents and weaknesses, the concerns also include the possibility of a runoff that could put a strain on resources and money. In Texas, especially, runoffs of late have not brought great news to the incumbent or the establishment-type candidate.

The race for Senate District 1, one of the two open Senate seats this cycle, was well on its way to mirroring other Republican primaries we've seen, in some respects. Bryan Hughes, a Mineola Republican, was never exactly an establishment Republican. He floated a challenge to House Speaker Joe Straus years ago, and during the most recent session, he voted for Straus' challenger, Scott Turner.

But what happens if an ostensibly tea party-aligned Republican gets branded an establishment candidate after a third opponent enters the race who may force a runoff, as veteran and businessman John Brown did Monday?
The Tyler Morning Telegraph brought up this prospect Tuesday, citing University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus' analysis that "Brown's entry complicates the race for Hughes as frontrunner."

Hughes' main opponent, David Simpson, already had crafted his image as an outsider, given his tenure in the House, who would be an independent vote in the Republican-dominated chamber. He would not be as reliable a vote for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's agenda as Hughes would, the thinking goes. For his part, Hughes has been busy rolling out endorsements from high-profile politicians and special interest groups that are influential in tea party circles, including Patrick.

As a third challenger enters the race, however, the newest question may be whether Brown can raise enough money to shift the conventional wisdom Hughes and Simpson had been working with before he jumped

Trio of candidates could mean runoff in Texas Senate District 1 race

Political analysts expect the three-way race for Senate District 1 won’t be decided until May 24.

On Monday, John “Red” Brown, a businessman with strong military and education credentials, announced his candidacy in the race to replace retiring state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler. He will face state Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, and Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, in the March Republican Primary. A third name on the ballot could divide the vote enough to push the race to a runoff.

District 1 represents Bowie, Camp, Cass, Franklin, Gregg, Harrison, Lamar, Marion, Morris, Panola, Red River, Rusk, Smith, Titus, Upshur and Wood counties, which means candidates must appeal to voters from cities such as Texarkana, Tyler, Carthage, Longview, Paris and Mt. Pleasant. The district also lies within multiple media markets.

This could make the race an expensive one. Open Senate District positions don’t come along that often, and many expected it to be a crowded field.

Simpson and Hughes made a strong case for contemplative contenders to stay out of the race. They announced in June, looking to gobble up credible endorsements and corner the campaign donor market.

Hughes snagged several high-profile endorsements, including Texas Right to Life and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the president of the Texas Senate. Simpson reported more than $150,000 in eight days of fundraising in his July report. The July finance reports also showed Simpson had twice as much money on hand - almost $224,000 - compared to Hughes’ $103,000.

Brown’s entry complicates things and could prolong the race. The race would go to a runoff if one candidate doesn’t win outright with 50 percent, plus one vote.


Harvey Kronberg, political analyst and publisher of The Quorum Report, said having two known conservative commodities in Simpson and Hughes and a relative unknown in Brown likely means the contest would be decided in a May 24 runoff.

Kronberg said Brown has noteworthy business and education credentials but will have to work hard to create a positive name ID in a large conservative district whose GOP base counts illegal immigration, abortion and the Second Amendment as its top priority.

“You certainly have folks who would like to see an honest-to-goodness pro-business Senator in your neck of the woods,” Kronberg said. “I would say he would divide enough of the Simpson and Hughes vote to cause a runoff, and it’s too early and I haven’t seen any polling that would shed light on how that would turn out.”

Hughes has advantages against Simpson and Brown. Hughes has been a state representative since 2002. He’s represented half of Senate District 1 during his tenure, including Camp, Morris, Rains, Smith, Titus and Wood counties now and Harrison and Upshur counties before redistricting.

He’s made himself a consistent and popular presence at events frequented by Main Street and tea party voter blocks. Patrick’s endorsement of Hughes is likely to work for him in two ways - by galvanizing the Tea Party voting block and making it awkward for major lobby groups to support someone other than the lieutenant governor’s guy.

But Simpson and Brown said voters are looking for an outsider and view their respective candidacies as the alternative to Hughes.

On Monday, Simpson said he welcomed Brown into the race but wouldn’t venture whether a third man in the ring helps or hurts his chances.

“I respect his experience and his service to this nation,” Simpson said of Brown. “I think voters love liberty and want to limit government and want someone who will make principled votes and shine a light on poor policy in Austin, and that’s what I’ve done during my time in the House.”

Hughes circled questions about Brown’s possible impact on the race by touting his conservative record and his confidence that it aligns with East Texas voters.

“I’m still the only candidate to vote to double resources for border security, and conservatives in Smith County and East Texas can support my record,” he said. “I think having a good working relationship with the lieutenant governor will help get things done for East Texas and people understand that.”


Brandon Rottinghaus, associate professor political science at the University of Houston, said Brown’s entry complicates the race for Hughes as frontrunner.

Rottinghaus said both Hughes and Simpson have cast themselves as conservative ideologues, though Simpson has made stands more in line with Libertarian views, such as his bill in the most recent Legislature to end marijuana prohibition. But he said the runoff likely helps Simpson, because Hughes could be considered an establishment Republican with tea party credentials.

Kronberg agreed. Both Kronberg and Rottinghaus said money would play a significant role in the race and that Brown has an uphill climb to establish his campaign network and make his name and message known to primary voters.

Rottinghaus said Brown would likely need to raise two to three times more money than Simpson and Hughes to close the gap, upward of $1.5 million.

“He would have to raise significant money to raise his profile via TV and radio buys and in other ways,” Rottinghaus said. “That means his cost-per-vote is going to be much higher.”

Brown said several prominent community members reached out to encourage him to run and promised to lend their financial and fundraising support to his campaign.

Kronberg and Rottinghaus said it would be interesting to see which candidate is supported by political action groups with the ability to write six-figure checks, such as Tim Dunnfunded Empower Texans.

Eltife drew the rancor of Empower Texans’ legislative score sheets each session and the group would likely want to influence the race to succeed him.

Eltife said he would likely stay away from any semblance of support for any of the candidates.

Brown said he has been building a network of city- and county-level leadership committees as a part of a grassroots campaign effort. He believes his record of success as a school board member and champion for economic development and job creation in Lindale would resonate with voters.

Simpson said he’s stuck with campaign basics that won him the House District 7 seat from a longtime incumbent – knocking on doors and attending intimate gatherings and events to listen and let people know where he stands. By his count, he and his volunteers had knocked on more than 10,000 doors since entering the race.

Hughes said he’d attended four events Monday and is on the phone drumming up support between stops. He said he expects to have enough money on hand to run an effective campaign.

“It’s full-time campaigning now,” he said. “I’m concentrating on talking about my record and hopefully voters identify with it.”