Konni Burton and Mark Shelton don’t see eye to eye on many issues.
But without doubt, they agree that it’s past time for a Republican to reclaim Texas Senate District 10, which Democrat Wendy Davis has represented since 2009.
The question that will be decided Tuesday is which one of them — Burton, a grassroots conservative with longtime Tea Party ties, or Shelton, a pediatrician and former state representative — would be the best to try for that goal in November.
“These are two conservative Republican candidates,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU. “They are trying to prove which one is more conservative … because the activists in the Republican Party, the ones who will vote [in the runoff], are quite conservative.”
Much hangs in the balance.
The race, for good reason, has long been described as one of the most watched and most pivotal races in Texas.
If a Republican claims the district in November, the GOP moves closer to a supermajority in the upper chamber, essentially removing Texas Democrats’ last line of defense in the Legislature.
In March, Burton, 51, led five Republicans seeking the seat and claimed 43 percent of the vote. Because she didn’t reach 50 percent, in the runoff she faces Shelton, 57, who lost a Senate bid to Davis in 2012 and drew 35 percent of the primary vote this year.
Tuesday will determine which Republican will face Democrat Libby Willis, Libertarian Gene Lord and Green Party candidate John Tunmire of Fort Worth in November.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Riddlesperger said.
Davis, D-Fort Worth, chose to not seek re-election and to run for governor.
A swing district
Many say it’s crucial for each party to choose the right candidate in the primary or primary runoff because this district could go for either party in November.
Considered a swing district, District 10 — which includes Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield and Colleyville — was considered fairly safe Republican for years until Davis bested state Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Arlington, in 2008. In 2012, Davis narrowly beat Shelton in her re-election bid.
If Democrats lose the district and all other Senate seats stay the same, Republicans inch closer to clinching a super majority in the chamber and removing any chance Democrats have of stopping proposals in the Legislature.
Under a long-standing rule, two-thirds of the 31-member Senate — 21 senators — must agree before a bill can reach the floor for debate. The goal of the rule is to make sure that lawmakers reach across the aisle on most proposals and respect opinions from the minority party.
Republicans hold 19 seats.
The two-thirds rule, and the fact that Democrats can use it to stop or slow down legislation in the Senate, “gives them more power in the Texas Legislature than they would otherwise have,” Riddlesperger said.
“It’s only in the Senate where Democrats can put the brakes on a Republican plan,” he said, adding that without it — in the current Republican-dominated state government and Legislature — “Democrats would essentially be irrelevant in the Texas Legislature.”
The Republican Party of Texas has pledged to support the GOP nominee for District 10 in the general election.
“For the state party, that Senate seat will be a Republican priority,” party Chairman Steve Munisteri said. “We will have no problem working with either Dr. Mark Shelton or Konni Burton.
“Our primary objective is to retake the seat,” he said. “Whoever wins [the primary runoff], our staff will be in touch to let them know we are here to help.”
Davis said last week that no matter what happens in the runoff, she has faith that voters in the district will make the right choice in November.
“I believe that Libby Willis will offer to voters in Senate District 10 [a continuation of reflecting] their priorities that I’ve sought to represent during my six years of representing them in the Texas Senate,” she said.
Burton said her top issue is fiscal responsibility. She said she’s frustrated that lawmakers, including Shelton when he was in the House, told constituents the budget was balanced.
“He passed a budget with $7 billion in accounting gimmicks and he goes around and tells people he passed a balanced budget,” she said. “It’s balanced on paper just because they are shifting money around or pushing payments off to the next session.”
Burton’s supporters include U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Right to Life, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, and Republican state Reps. Jonathan Stickland of Bedford, Matt Krause of Fort Worth, Bill Zedler of Arlington and Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake
“It’s incredibly important to show the Democrats and Battleground Texas that Texas is stepping up and pushing back on their ideology,” Burton said. “But it’s also important in terms of the numbers in the Senate.”
Shelton said his top priorities are water, the state budget, the water plan and Tarrant County issues.
He noted that “77 percent of voters in Tarrant County voted in favor of the long-term water plan last year. Ms. Burton says she will undo that. I will champion Tarrant County interests for water, transportation and education.”
Shelton has picked up endorsements from Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, the Texas Association of Businesses, Texas Association of Realtors, Texas Medical Association and Hispanic Republicans of Texas.
“I’ll put [constituents’] interests and Tarrant County first,” he said. “I am the only candidate who has pledged to represent the people of Tarrant County over out-of-county special interest groups.
“I ask for their vote for my positive vision and conservative record.”
Money money money
Shelton has slightly more more cash — nearly $101,000 — than Burton’s $95,014.
But Burton out-raised Shelton $214,300 to $110,513 during the last filing period, according to recent records filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.
Shelton received his two largest donations — each for $25,000 — from Alice Walton, the billionaire daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton; and the Texas Association of Realtors’ political action committee, according to his filing, which reflects donations from Feb. 23 to May 17.
Among the other donations he received: $250 from Michael Berry, president of Hillwood Corp.; $1,000 from Mac Churchill, president of Mac Churchill Inc.; and $4,500 from Gordon England, former deputy defense secretary.
Burton’s largest donor was the Empower Texans PAC, which sent more than $55,000 to her campaign. Other sizable donations included $25,000 from the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, $10,000 from the Texans for Education Reform PAC, $53.88 from the Ted Cruz for U.S. Senate campaign; and $5,000 from Monty Bennett of Dallas County.
She also received $1,500 from the National Association of Gun Rights PAC in Windsor, Colo., and $50 from Cathie Adams, a conservative political activist and head of the Texas Eagle Forum.
Both candidates still have outstanding loans — Burton, $200,000, and Shelton, $100,000, reports say.