By Paul A. Anthony, Editor in Chief
Although redistricting is Randy Neugebauer’s reason for running in Abilene, he prefers to talk about something other than lines, court battles and partisan brawls in the Texas Legislature.
Instead, the Republican Congressman from Lubbock is looking to both keep his job and take Abilene Democrat Charlie Stenholm’s in what looks to be a fiercely competitive race for the newly formed 19th District. Monday he brought his campaign to campus.
“The most important factor in this election isn’t about the past,” Neugebauer told the Optimist Monday. “It’s about the future.”
Neugebauer said that future includes less government, fewer taxes and fewer regulations, painting himself as a more conservative alternative to Stenholm, who has represented Abilene and its surroundings for 25 years.
Texas’ Republican leadership targeted Stenholm as one of several Democrats to be unseated in mid-decade redistricting designed to give Republicans a majority in the Texas delegation to Congress.
Stenholm, a leader of the “Blue Dog” Democrats, a conservative group of Democrats in the House of Representatives, said he has represented a Republican district for years and will continue to do so.
“A lady in Lubbock told me, ‘You can change the lines, but you can’t change the minds,'” said Stenholm, who has spent most of the campaign thus far working in Lubbock and the northern counties of the new district.
By contrast, Neugebauer is campaigning heavily in Abilene, bringing in Vice President Richard B. Cheney for a December fund-raiser and visiting Abilene’s college campuses.
Neugebauer said the result is a double-digit lead over Stenholm in polling conducted by his campaign and a feeling that residents of the 27-county district are responding.
“We won’t be outworked,” Neugebauer said. “We’re going to have the financial resources to run the campaign, and we’re right on the issues.”
As in previous campaigns, the battle will be about who can claim the conservative title.
Neugebauer criticized Stenholm as wanting to raise taxes, calling him a member of the government that for 25 years has grown in size and regulatory power.
“A lot of the people I’m talking to are tired of high taxes, high regulations and more government intrusion,” he said.
Stenholm in turn brushed off such criticism, touting his 25-year voting record as one of fiscal responsibility.
“If he’s going to tout tax cuts with borrowed money on your future or our children’s future, that’ll be an issue,” Stenholm said in a phone interview. “In my opinion, that’s not in the best interests of the United States.”
Neugebauer holds a prohibitive fund-raising advantage, one that Stenholm said he does not expect to match, but he added he expects to have enough to run a winning campaign.
In December Stenholm criticized the Cheney fund-raiser for being partly funded by taxpayer money. Stenholm also used the event to portray Neugebauer as being on the same team with U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who orchestrated the redistricting process that was popularly reviled in West Texas.
Neugebauer also used the team analogy.
“I think that’s the difference,” he said. “Charlie Stenholm and I are on different teams. He’s on the John Kerry-Nancy Pelosi team; I’m on the George Bush-Denny Hastert team.”
Kerry is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and Pelosi is House minority leader, while J. Dennis Hastert is speaker of the House.