HOUSTON, TEXAS– The battle for leadership of the Harris County Republican Party (HCRP) will end today as primary voters head to the polls. The race for HCRP Chairman pits two opponents who are no strangers to running against each other. Incumbent Chairman Jared Woodfill and challenger Paul Simpson have squared off at least twice before the 2014 Joint Primary.
Enter Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. Judge Emmett has stepped into the race by supporting Paul Simpson to the tune of $100,000 in campaign contributions. In addition Emmett has also fully engaged his name, voice and image to the campaign. Emmett is regularly one of the top vote gatherers on Harris County ballots.
Judge Emmett’s entrance in the race has sparked what some political observers have called a near civil war for the control of the future and direction of the HCRP. Woodfill has the backing of the heart and soul of the social conservative movement in the Houston. He has the trifecta of the “Big Slates”, those being Dr. Steven Hotze, Terry Lowery and Gary Polland. These three endorsements nearly always guarantee a victory for a candidate.
Simpson, on the other hand, has managed to do something that has not been done in quite some time, the uniting of the grassroots activists and the downtown, big-money faction of the party.
Houston Chronicle reporter Kiah Collier reported last week, “Woodfill and his supporters say the opposition is fueled by ‘big-money interests’ associated with a faction of the party that wants to abandon social issues and is willing to jeopardize party unity to get their way.”
Collier quotes Woodfill, “This is a battle for the heart and soul of the local Republican Party. As long as I’m chairman, well, we are going to continue to be very proud and very loud about our social, and our fiscal, conservative beliefs.”
Simpson sees things differently. His campaign has focused on the management of the party, fundraising and volunteer recruitment. “We have money from a broad range of supporters,” said Simpson. “None of these folks are even talking about the party having to change its message.”
At times it appears Woodfill would like the debate to be between himself and Judge Emmett instead of his actual opponent, Paul Simpson. After criticizing Emmett for spending his war chest to attack fellow Republicans now instead of Democrats in November, Woodfill told the Chronicle, “This is one guy trying to buy control of the chairman’s office.”
In a statement obtained by Breitbart Texas, Judge Emmett responded, “Every election year, I spend a significant portion of my campaign funds to help the election of the entire Republican ticket, since I am so far down the ballot. This year, the most important thing I can do is to help elect Paul Simpson so that all of us candidates will have a strong local party supporting us. In 2012, the state party had to come in to prop up Harris County. We need local support, so this is a wise use of my campaign dollars.”
Woodfill told the Houston-based News 92 FM’s Mike Barajas in February, “Judge Emmett and I have a fundamental difference as to the direction of the party.”
And that statement is true, there is a significant difference in how the two candidates, Woodfill and Simpson, believe the party should be run. Simpson believes in a Reagan style big tent party philosophy whereas Woodfill’s record seems to want to restrict party leadership only to those who share his strict social conservative values.
Yesterday, March 3, featured two election eve campaign rallies for the two candidates. Woodfill staged a press conference at HCRP Headquarters where he and many other Republican leaders from across the state stood up against the ruling by Sen. Leticia Van De Putte’s brother-in-law, Judge Orlando Garcia to overturn Texas constitutional ban on homosexual marriage. Simpson did not attend the event because he believe it to be a Woodfill campaign event and not an official party function.
Simpson was featured later that evening at an election eve rally hosted by the Spring Branch Republicans that also featured the three incumbent Texas Supreme Court Justices. Throughout that event, Woodfill was referred to as a liberal plaintiff trial-lawyer who is financially backed by prominent Democrat donors. They cited two of Woodfill’s law partners, Supreme Court Justice John Devine (who unseated Justice David Medina in 2012) and Supreme Court candidate Robert Talton (running against Chief Justice Nathan Hecht) as evidence of Woodfill’s behind the scenes efforts to turn back the clock on tort reform by infiltrating the bench with Democrat backed trial lawyers.
The chairman’s race is the very last race on the ballot in Harris County. Yet, because of the significance of being the office that leads the largest Republican county in the country, it is perhaps the most talked about race going on in this county and is widely being discussed across the state of Texas.
The wild card in the race, a third candidate who could possibly force a tight race into a runoff–a previously unknown Wendy McPherson Berry surprised everyone when she filed to run for county chair on the last day of filing in December. As a female on the ballot and a name similar to a very popular radio talk show host, she could possibly pull enough votes to carry this fight on for another eleven weeks to the May 27, 2014 runoff.
The last time Woodfill and Simpson paired off during the 2012 Republican Primary, Woodfill defeated Simpson by a margin of 5.3 percent. Out of 121,861 votes cast and a 25 percent under-vote, only 6,409 votes separated the two candidates. In that race, Simpson had little, if any, campaign money and a much smaller campaign organization. Simpson raised over $300,000 and has amassed a large base of support including many powerful Republican Women’s Club activists and local political figures. This may well be the race to watch tonight as it could well directly impact the race to turn Texas blue in November.
Follow Bob Price on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX