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Big district, big change as District 13 Congressional runoff heats up

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Texas’ 13th Congressional District is the second largest in the state. It covers most of the Panhandle all the way east to Gainesville in North Texas -- and includes parts of 41 of the state’s 254 counties.   

“I would hate to run in this district.”

That’s Dave Rausch, a political science professor at Canyon’s West Texas A&M University.

“It’s just long. It stretches all the way past Wichita Falls and it keeps going. You’d think you’d run out of Texas before you run out of district.”

And for a long time, it’s been represented in Congress by one person - Mac Thornberry. First elected in 1994, the outgoing congressman from Clarendon has served on multiple committees. Thornberry announced last fall he would not run for re-election, along with a handful of other Texas GOP representatives. 

Here’s Thornberry talking about why with Wichita Falls news station KFDX. 

“For me, and for example Mike Conaway down in Midland, we’re at the end of our time as top of the committees. So it’s a natural time to move on.” 

Thornberry was chairman of the Armed Services Committee for four years and ranking member for another two. Rausch says the congressman will be a tough act to follow. The professor calls Thornberry’s long tenure historic. 

“We’re going to be losing a lot of clout.”

The size of the district wasn’t daunting for some. The March ballot had 15 Republican candidates. It’s now down to two conservatives who both think they’re the right man for the job. 

Josh Winegarner, industry affairs director for the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, earned 39% of the primary vote. He’s been endorsed by Thornberry. Born and raised in the Panhandle, he’s campaigning on deep roots and an understanding of the area’s agriculture industry, as you can hear in this campaign video.

“Farmers and ranchers feed and clothe our nation and fuel our local economy. For over a decade, I’ve fought harmful legislation and regulations that would endanger our way of life in the Panhandle, Texoma and North Texas. I will be the strongest advocate our agricultural producers and small business owners have in Congress.”

His opponent, Dr. Ronny Jackson, may have more national than local name recognition. He received 20 percent of the March votes. Jackson’s originally from the South Plains town of Levelland. He served as physician to three presidents before he was nominated in 2018 to be the Veterans Affairs Secretary. He withdrew after allegations of misconduct-- which he has denied.

Jackson planned to move back to Texas after retiring from the Navy late last year. He settled in Amarillo where he could run for this seat.

“I was getting out, Thornberry was retiring. I was watching the news and I saw stuff and I thought, ‘Wow, President Trump is getting reelected again.’ I think the Democrats have gone too far down this path. I don’t think they can turn the train around at this point.”

The president has endorsed Jackson. In-person and in campaign ads, Winegarner has called Jackson an opportunist who doesn’t know the district. 

“We are Ronny’s back-up plan. We deserve better. I’m Josh Winegarner and I approve this message, because we need one of our own.” 

Jackson sees this as an insult to his military service. He says his DC-relationships will only benefit District 13. 

“If I’m blessed enough to represent this district, I promise you I’ll be the only freshman congressman in the country who can legitimately walk into the oval office unannounced and tell the President of the United States ‘Sir, I have something I’ve got to make you aware of, and he’ll stop and listen to me.” 

Thornberry expects a Republican to succeed him, and with good reason. President Trump won 80 percent of the district’s votes in 2016. Two Democrats are also in a runoff this primary.

“As many people note, it is one of the most conservative districts in the United States.” 

Professor Rausch says this runoff election has been a contentious one. It’s gotten personal. He thinks that’s normal, it’s just been a while since this district has seen much of that.

“It ends up being much more personality, much more little details that you can twist and bend. And really, primary elections, unless there’s a gentleman’s agreement, which there almost never is, become quite heated.” 

Last week, Jackson and Winegarner participated in a debate hosted by Amarillo news station KAMR. Winegarner was asked if he was disappointed to not receive Trump’s endorsement. 

“What I think I’m really glad about is that I had the support of nearly 40% of voters in this district during the first time around. That means more to me than almost anything because I know that the people who came out to vote saw me as the candidate that they most preferred. 

Moderator: Mr. Jackson, we can give you 30 seconds to follow-up.

Jackson: Well, I hate to disappoint you Mr. Winegarner, but a lot of those votes belong to me now. And we’re about to see that on the 14th of July.” 

Rausch says it's hard to predict which candidate will be right, given that the vote comes in the midst of a pandemic. Early voting is under way, meaning the outcome is now in voters' hands.

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