Konni Burton, challenger spend big bucks in race for Texas’ only ‘swing’ Senate seat

State Rep. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, and Democrat Beverly Powell face off for the Senate District 10 seat in November.
State Rep. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, and Democrat Beverly Powell face off for the Senate District 10 seat in November. Star-Telegram

The battle for the Senate District 10 seat already is turning into a premiere fight that could end up being one of the most costly legislative races on the ballot in November.

Less than four months before state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, and Democrat Beverly Powell face off on the Nov. 6 ballot, more than $600,000 has poured into this race.

Burton, who has represented the district since 2015, has raised more, spent more and has significantly more money in her war chest in this race being watched across the state.

“It’s the most competitive district in the state,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a TCU political science professor. “Both parties understand the stakes are relatively high.

“The national trends suggest Democratic gains this year, and Democrats hope for an ‘enthusiasm gap’ that might help them even in state-level elections.”

Senate District 10 is a rarity in Texas, a district neither solidly Republican nor Democratic that has swung between the two parties for years.

Democrat Wendy Davis of Fort Worth represented the district from 2009 to 2015, after defeating incumbent Republican Kim Brimer, but Democrats lost the seat in 2014 to Burton.

“In 2018, the only Texas Senate race where there exists any doubt about who is going to win is in SD 10,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. “All together, there is little doubt that the final price tag for the SD 10 contest between Burton and Powell will be in excess of $2 million when the dust clears in November.”

At stake in the race for the district — which includes Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield and Colleyville — is a four-year term that pays $7,200 annually.

But it’s worth much more than that salary to each party.

“SD 10 is a bellwether district representing ideological and demographics changes in Texas,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “If the Democrats can pick up a swing district held by a seasoned Republican incumbent, Texas has a hope of turning blue.”

Republican money

Burton raised $341,717 and spent $169,634 during the first six months of this year, according to the latest campaign finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.

She has $528,445 in cash on hand and $240,000 in outstanding loans.

Among her donations: $10,000 from Alice Walton, the daughter of the late Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton; $300 from Rafael Cruz, father of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz; $35,000 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform; $5,000 from H. Ross Perot Jr.; and $1,000 from the NRA Victory Fund.

She landed several campaign contributions from fellow lawmakers. The largest was $20,000 from Texans for Dan Patrick. Smaller donations came from U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, and GOP state Sens. Paul Bettencourt of Houston, Donna Campbell of New Braunfels and Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham.

“The support she is receiving from Lt. Gov. Patrick as well as several of her fellow senators underscores that for Patrick, the SD 10 contest is his highest electoral priority after his own re-election,” Jones said.

Burton also received several donations tied to Empower Texans, a conservative group that has worked for years to move the Legislature more to the right. This quarter, those donations included $10,000 from Tim Dunn, a Midland oilman; $10,000 from Kyle Stallings, a Midland energy executive; and $15,000 from Dick Saulsbury, founder of Saulsbury Electric Company. She also picked up more than $17,000 from the Texas Right to Life PAC, which works with Empower Texans.

These donations drew a quick reaction from Powell’s staff.

“Voters in Tarrant County and across the state are tired of the extreme agenda of Empower Texans and Konni Burton,” said Garry Jones, campaign manager for Powell. “Texas voters are looking for coalition builders willing to work across the aisle to invest in our public schools and create an environment where job creators can thrive.

“Beverly Powell is the only candidate in the SD 10 race with a record of supporting public schools and the only candidate committed to promoting bipartisan policies to attract business to Tarrant County.”

Burton called the Democrat’s comments “desperate.”

“Our campaign is fighting alongside Governor Abbott to fix our skyrocketing property taxes, and that has resulted in broad-based, energetic support,” she said. “We have consistently outraised and outperformed our opposition at every step of this race, because the people of this district do not want to be represented by a self-professed ‘Hillary-type candidate.’

“We already rejected Mrs. Clinton once, and we will do it again. Beverly Powell’s desperate attacks are a result of her campaign’s lack of momentum.”

Democratic dollars

Powell, a real estate agent who has served on public school and college boards for years, received $265,807 in contributions and spent $136,025 between Feb 25 and June 30, the new reports show.

Currently, she has $140,749 in cash on hand and $20,000 in outstanding loans.

Among her donations: $15,000 from Annie’s List, a group that works to elect progressive women in Texas; $10,000 from Val Pelsen, a McAllen beer distributor; and $5,000 from the Fort Worth Firefighters Committee for Responsible Government.

She received donations from several education groups, including $10,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; $5,000 from the Texas Classroom Teachers Association; and $5,000 from the Texas State Teachers Association.

Powell also received $1,000 from Libby Willis, a Fort Worth woman who won the Democratic Party’s nomination for this post in 2014 but lost the general election to Burton.

“Powell has also done a very impressive job of fundraising, which has put pressure on Burton to step up her efforts,” Mark Jones said. “This is not surprising as she is a high-quality candidate and represents Texas Democrats’ best chance for altering (if only modestly) the balance of political power in Austin during the next legislative session.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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