There are another two weeks until Election Day, but the back-and-forth attacks in the Democratic runoff in El Paso between State Rep. Norma Chavez, a ten year incumbent, and challenger Naomi Gonzalez, a 31-year old assistant county attorney, are well under way.
Chavez is no stranger to tough political battles, but the challenge from Gonzalez represents her most serious test since entering the Texas House in 1999. Gonzalez has been able to run a better campaign due in the large part to the generosity of Texans for Lawsuit Reform. TLR made over $146,000 in in-kind contributions to Gonzales over the course of three weeks in January and February. In that same time period, Chavez took more than $90,000 from Texans for Insurance Reform, a trial lawyer funded group founded to counter TLR.
The El Paso Times reported that TLR, who in past years had supported Chavez, has given a total of $169,000 to Gonzalez. She has raised a total of $192,000, a strong number for a challenger but still behind the $272,000 that Chavez has received.
Each candidate has accused the other of being a Republican. Gonzalez has sent out a mailer showing Chavez kissing George W. Bush and hugging Rick Perry. Chavez was also one of the first Democrats to support Tom Craddick for speaker in 2003 and was rewarded with an appointment as chair of the House Border Affairs Committee.
Chavez, predictably, has attacked Gonzalez for her heavy reliance on TLR money. Chavez told El Paso Inc, “I’m not calling [Gonzalez] a closet Republican, I’m calling her a Republican. She’s already bought and paid for.”
While Chavez has relied on strong grassroots support to overcome past controversies and challenges, Gonzalez seems to have established herself as the favorite. Gonzalez led Chavez 48 to 46 percent in the initial primary. The only Democratic House runoff will be decided on April 13. Early voting begins on Monday, April 5.