Voters to test grassroots vs. establishment dynamic in Republican race for Granger’s seat

dfwnewsa | February 20, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Voters to test grassroots vs. establishment dynamic in Republican race for Granger’s seat

Texas’ 12th Congressional District will have a new representative after the 2024 elections. (Courtesy photo | Wikimedia Commons)
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Kay Granger’s plans to leave Congress created an open race and rare moment for Texas’ 12th Congressional District, one that five Republicans hope to seize.

Since 1919, only five people have represented the district.

State Rep. Craig Goldman is among those running in the GOP primary and has the money, name recognition and backing of key Tarrant County officials in his bid.

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His opponents say that with the Fort Worth establishment throwing its support behind him, the only way to win the district is through grassroots support. 

Voters will put this dynamic to the test as they decide who among five Republican contenders should carry their party’s banner in the Nov. 5 election. 

The Republican candidates are:

Army veteran and engineer Clint Dorris

Electrical engineer Shellie Gardner

State Rep. Craig Goldman

Retiree Anne Henley

Former banker John O’Shea

The winner of the GOP primary will go on to face either Trey Hunt or Sebastian Gehrig as the Democratic nominee for the seat.

Runoff possible

A runoff is possible for the Republicans, said Thomas Marshall, a retired political science professor. He sees the race coming down to one person.

“I think it’s still a question of whether Mr. Goldman can get to 50%, and I don’t think it’s a certainty,” Marshall said.

A candidate who receives more than 50% of the vote outright wins the primary, avoiding a runoff election. If no one hits that threshold, the top two vote-getters face off in another election to determine who will carry their party’s mantle in the general election.

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State Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, celebrates the launch of a film industry training program at Backlot Studios, 305 S. Main St., in Fort Worth on Aug. 30, 2023. (Marcheta Fornoff | Fort Worth Report)

Goldman and his team have been canvassing across the 12th Congressional District, which covers the western half of Tarrant County and most of Parker County. He is using the $1 million in his campaign’s coffers to tell Republican primary voters he is the right candidate.

“We’re out knocking on doors now and getting our message out that I have a proven conservative voting record and, no offense to my other opponents, they don’t,” Goldman told the Fort Worth Report.

O’Shea acknowledged the reality his campaign faces. He won’t reach the fundraising highs of other candidates or rake in endorsements from some influential elected officials in the district — or, as O’Shea describes them, the establishment.

“What my strategy has been is to get in front of as many churches, as many grassroots organizations, as many Republican clubs as possible, have as many meets-and-greets and ask others to host them,” O’Shea said. 

Gardner is shooting for 50% plus one, she said. 

“My job right now is to speak to as many people as I can, and then also use all the tools that are available,” Gardner said.

Dorris, an Aledo Republican, said he was glad to be in a crowded primary field. He sees the other candidates pulling enough support away from Goldman to force him into a May 28 runoff.

“I’ve never wanted to be No. 2 in my life, but given the statistics of it, I’m running for No. 2 right now,” Dorris said. “I’m not trying to outrun Craig. I’m trying to outrun O’Shea.”

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!function(){“use strict”;window.addEventListener(“message”,(function(a){if(void 0!==a.data[“datawrapper-height”]){var e=document.querySelectorAll(“iframe”);for(var t in a.data[“datawrapper-height”])for(var r=0;rRepublican John O’Shea, who is running for Texas’ 12th Congressional District, speaks during a Fort Worth Report candidate forum on Feb. 7, 2024. (Camilo Diaz | Fort Worth Report)

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Too many people are crossing it illegally and Congress should use its power of the purse to force action, O’Shea said. 

Another way to tamp down border crossings, he said, would be to mandate that employers use E-Verify, a federal system that checks whether people are authorized to be in the U.S. Doing that would be a disincentive for people to cross in the U.S., he said.

“If that isn’t the top priority for every person, then they’re not a serious candidate. Because without a border, you’re not a country,” O’Shea said.

The nation’s border policies are broken, Gardner said. The first thing Congress needs to do, she said, is allocate more money to complete the border wall.

“Let’s bring common sense to the solution. We need a wall and then we need to make sure that all of the law enforcement and Border Patrol — everyone working at the wall — has the resources that they need to be successful,” Gardner said.

Several weeks ago, Goldman visited the border to see how the $5 billion the Legislature dedicated to secure Texas was working. Lawmakers wanted to ensure the money was spent effectively, and law enforcement told them it was, Goldman said.

Goldman plans to push the federal government to defend the border, he said.

Republican candidates for Texas’ 12th Congressional District speak at a Fort Worth Report candidate debate on Feb. 7, 2024. (Camilo Diaz | Fort Worth Report)

“Because they have not been doing it, Texas had to step in and defend our borders. We shouldn’t have to spend over $5 billion defending our border, because that’s the federal government’s job,” Goldman said. “It’ll be the No. 1 thing that I focus on when I go up there.”

Dorris supported the border and immigration policies of former President Donald Trump, who is seeking the nation’s highest office for a second, nonconsecutive term. A weakened border is a threat to national security, Dorris said.

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“One way or another, we need to figure out how we’re going to secure the border,” Dorris said.

‘A race with no incumbent’

A last-minute infusion of money could shake up the race, said Marshall, the political scientist.

Big donors could easily pour money into political action committees and level up a candidate who hasn’t raised as much money as Goldman, Marshall said.

“A race with no incumbent is a little unstructured,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger speaks at a World Economic Forum event in 2013. Since her election in 1997, Granger has risen to become one of the top women leaders in the House of Representatives. (Courtesy World Economic Forum | Benedikt von Loebell)

Marshall pointed to the last primary in which Granger, the current seat holder, faced a challenger. 

In 2020, former Colleyville Council member Chris Putnam pushed television advertisements and a direct mail campaign to unseat the longtime congresswoman. Trump threw his support behind Granger’s reelection.

Granger won 58% to Putnam’s 42%. 

The closeness of that race showed how primary voters could support an outsider candidate over a more traditional candidate, Marshall said. 

Four years later, the candidates are different, but the dynamics remain, Marshall said.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via @_jacob_sanchez. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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