Republicans trying to win back the Texas seat now held by former NFL player Colin Allred know what they need: Somebody other than Pete Sessions.
Local GOP leaders conducted an autopsy of the election that sent 11-term Republican House member Sessions packing. The results, they say, were clear.
The party needs a new face who can revive the GOP’s appeal with moderates.
“Congressman Sessions ran a really serious race, and we applaud him for that. I think though, that the voters of Dallas tried something new,” said Dallas County Republican Chairwoman Missy Shorey, who is being courted for the race. “We need to make sure our candidates are very compelling and exciting.”
“Pete was a fine public servant for a long period of time and added value to Texas in his district, but he’d been there a really, really long time,” said George Seay, a Dallas Republican businessman who served as a finance chair for former Gov. Rick Perry’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“The big question for all the people who are sniffing around that district early is, did Pete lose because he got beat by a candidate that fits that district better now, or did he lose because people were ready for somebody different?” said Seay.
Both Shorey and Seay are being recruited by Texas Republicans to run against Allred in a district that has perplexed national strategists with its rapid turn away from the GOP in recent years.
Voters there chose Republican Mitt Romney by 15 percentage points in 2012, before flipping to support Democrat Hillary Clinton over President Donald Trump in 2016.
Sessions didn’t have a Democratic opponent that year, but was swept out by Allred two years later — along with most other Republicans still representing districts that swung from Romney to Clinton.
“Texas 32 is a combination of all of Democrats’ best emerging demographic groups,” said David Wasserman, House race analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “The only scenario in which I can envision Republicans winning it back is if the national political climate improves dramatically for Republicans.”
Both local and national Republicans still believe they can bring lost moderate Republicans home before then.
This week Allred was one of two Democratic incumbents targeted by the GOP super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund, with an ad tying him to energy policies proposed by some of the most liberal members of his party.
That investment in the district comes as Republicans, who need to flip 18 seats to retake the House in 2020, have plenty of prime targets among the 31 Democrats representing districts Trump won.
“There are many traditionally Republican voters in Texas who we believe will side with us once Democrats select their presidential nominee, especially if the most liberal voices in the party continue to set the Democratic agenda,” CLF Vice President Zach Hunter said of the decision to spend against Allred.
Local officials are also taking an aggressive approach against Allred, showing up at his first town hall meeting after he was elected.
But they concede Republicans need to work on their own brand to lure back members of their party whose enthusiasm has waned in recent years.
Allred won his 2018 race with the help of plenty of new voters, but also larger shares of the vote in wealthy pockets of the district than Democrats before him.
“The most important thing is we need to remind people why they are Republicans,” said Shorey. “Amazon is taking a second look at Dallas because we provide opportunities, because we honor free markets.”
Shorey asked Dallas GOP leaders to conduct a self assessment of their 2018 performance, which included the loss of a state Senate seat and five state House seats. She gathered responses within weeks of the 2018 election, and distributed a final report to local party leaders at the beginning of the new year.
“We’ve done our analysis of 2018 and looked and seen our needs, and we are sharing those needs both with the state party and the national party in making requests,” said Shorey, who this month she held a party event celebrating Black History Month in Irving with Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel.
Seay, who said he has entertained three or four exploratory phone calls about the race, said, “If Republicans want to put a dent in this and have any kind of success, they’re going to have to get a lot more successful at appealing to minorities and women.”