AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A race to represent western Tarrant County in the state Senate has become the most important legislative race of the year, determining whether Democrats can continue to demand compromise.
The choice between Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis and Republican Rep. Mark Shelton is a pivotal and closely watched race for the GOP, which is two seats shy of a two-thirds supermajority that would allow it to pass any legislation it desired.
If Shelton wins the District 10 race on Nov. 6, Republican senators would no longer face the difficult task of needing two Democratic votes to pass a bill. And history has shown that convincing just one Democrat to cross over has been easy, said Matt Glazer, executive director of left-leaning Progress Texas activist group.
“Wendy Davis is the most critical race in all of Texas,” Glazer said. “We’ve seen the traditional record of Democrats who have been in the Senate for decades selling out the long-term needs of Texas for short-terms gains in their district.”
Throwing Davis out of office is critical for Republicans to pass the bills they want, much as the GOP supermajority in the Texas House did last year. But in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 19-12 edge, Democrats had the numbers last session to slow the GOP agenda, including blocking one of Gov. Rick Perry’s pieces of emergency legislation that would require police to make enforcing federal immigration laws a priority equal to all others.
Shelton agrees this election is critical to advancing the Republican agenda, and he said he enjoys the tea party’s support.
But so far, the District 10 race appears to be a toss-up. While voting patterns indicate the district leans Republican, an election during a presidential year usually boosts turnout, giving Davis a more than fighting chance.
Both candidates claim widespread support in the district and the campaign has taken several nasty turns. Davis has sought to portray herself as a bipartisan moderate, while Shelton hopes to win on traditional Texan conservatism.
Davis and Shelton offer voters a stark contrast in policy and style. Davis is the darling of progressive Democrats, who see her personal charisma and solid policy background making her a future party leader. A two-term conservative Texas House member, Shelton spent the 2011 session on the high-profile appropriations and public education committees.
Davis, a Fort Worth attorney, won her district the first time in 2008, when President Barack Obama’s election boosted Democratic turnout. Her district, though, normally leans Republican, and she needs a 2008-level of Democratic turnout to win. The self-made, single mom connects with less affluent voters and promises to protect funding for public schools and health care for the poor.
“I am not afraid to stand up and fight for them, even if I know that standing up and fighting for them means I’ll lose,” Davis said. “Rick Perry and some of his partisan ideologue colleagues are not at all interested in having their agenda questioned. … Their agenda is about representing an extremist position that I don’t think is reflective of mainstream Texas.”
Davis said keeping the Democratic minority strong would ensure greater bipartisan cooperation in the Senate.
“The majority will run roughshod over the agenda of what happens in the Senate and I believe the more extreme partisans in the Senate will be joined by Mark Shelton,” she added. “He certainly has been voting as an extremist in the House.”
Shelton, meanwhile, promises traditional conservative politics. He is a pediatrician from Arlington who opposes the Affordable Care Act and abortion rights and promises limited government.
“This race is really about the state spending and budget and my position is that we help balance the budget without raising taxes,” Shelton said. “The people of this district are more interested in the economy and jobs than anything else.”
Shelton said Davis is an extreme liberal whose positions would damage the Texas economy.
“I think we need to be a lot better in the state of Texas in how we spend our money,” he said. But Shelton added that he has supported increased spending for training new doctors and reducing the state’s infant mortality rate.
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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