Not the Comptroller’s Race Many Were Counting On

February 25, 2014

From The Quorom Report:

To the surprise of many, Hilderbran has run a disciplined campaign and won over business interests

If you’d have asked Texas Capitol insiders six to eight months ago whether Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, had a shot winning the contest for Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts – something he’d been hinting at for some time – many would have been quick to dismiss the idea. In fact, many did. Put simply, it wasn’t taken that seriously by a lot of folks at that time. But, the way things have shaken out so far in the race, he may be headed for a runoff with the Tea Party darling that some refer to as the “Queen of Wharton,” Debra Medina.

Medina leads in the polls, which is not shocking at all given her name ID from previously running for governor. What did surprise some folks is how much she led by in the UT/Texas Tribune poll. We’ll come back to that.

Where are things shifting in this race? Well, Hilderbran outraised Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, in the final campaign finance reporting period prior to next Tuesday’s election. In the 8 day reports – now trickling out on the Texas Ethics Commission website – Hilderbran raised $432,000 to Hegar’s $406,000. In that same time, however, Hegar had spent $2.7 million to Hilderbran’s $955,000.While it was a competitive fundraising showing from both of them, it marks the first time the senator has been outraised by the representative as the two jockey for a spot in a runoff against Medina.

In the University of Texas Poll released this week, Medina is at 39 percent to Hilderbran’s 26 percent and Hegar’s 24 percent. Former State Rep. Raul Torres, R-Corpus Christi, is also in the race and came in with 11 percent in that poll, which you can read more about here.

Some of our readers took issue with how high Medina’s numbers were in that poll. It’s always fun to argue about a poll’s accuracy over drinks, right? But, it may be reflective of something close to reality, especially if you consider her initial run for public office was for governor in 2010 and despite coming in third in the GOP primary, she scored 18.5 percent when matched up against two of the state’s top vote-getters ever: Gov. Perry and former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. She’s also had strong performances in front of conservative audiences, including a standing ovation at the Republican Party of Texas Convention. While not definitive by any means, it’s indicative of the fact she has a significant following.

Medina frustrated some Capitol players with her brief talk of running for governor as an Independent this time around. It’s something she originally told Quorum Report was a possibility and got quite a bit of buzz for at the time, but she later returned to the Comptroller’s race in which she’s had trouble raising money. As of now, she has about $36,000 in the bank.

While all of the candidates in the GOP primary across Texas include a healthy dollop of anti-Obama and anti-Washington rhetoric in their stump speeches and commercials, in this race it’s been Hilderbran, not Hegar, who has been focused on the actual responsibilities of the Comptroller. Part of that includes ideas for improving the office, like his push to update the legislature more often on the state’s finances. Trade associations have taken a liking to this approach, earning Hilderbran the endorsements of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Hospital Association, and others.

Hegar’s campaign has chosen to focus primarily on red meat issues like abortion and gun rights while eschewing much of what the state’s chief accountant does in their official capacity. This commercial, for example, looks like a trailer for an action movie that makes a strong appeal based on gun rights, tangentially connects the dots back to small business and then closes with machine gun fire. It is certainly an effective message for conservative voters and his endorsements reflect that. Among others, Hegar’s endorsements include Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, the National Rifle Association, Texas Right to Life, and the Young Conservatives of Texas.

Hegar’s approach could potentially be the most effective in a primary runoff, when only the most ardent of conservative GOP voters typically show up at the polls. The question for now though – as evidenced by the shift in fundraising and these new poll numbers – is whether Sen. Hegar will get a chance to test that out.

By Scott Braddock