- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

DALLAS — The race between two incumbent congressmen here promises to be a down-to-the-wire, possibly bitter battle.

Pete Sessions, 49, a popular conservative, is the incumbent in District 32 and Martin Frost, 62, is the well-organized Democrat challenger, also an incumbent whose district was divided up this year.

Both are members of the important House Rules Committee.

Mr. Frost has been one of the more liberal congressmen from Texas for 26 years, while Mr. Sessions, in his eight years in Washington, has been one of the most conservative.

Ordinarily, Mr. Sessions would win hands-down because the district, which includes Dallas County, is nearly 50 percent Republican-registered. Plus, Republican candidates — including Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and President Bush — easily carried the district.

But Mr. Frost’s challenge is not ordinary.

He is the congressman from District 24, which was carved into five different pieces by the recent Republican-led redistricting. The change imperiled not only Mr. Frost, but also several other Texas Democrats.

And he is trying for a 14th term in the House, which if nothing else gives him an edge in name identification.

Early on, Mr. Frost — the Texas House member the Republican Party wanted most to retire with its redistricting maneuvers — let it be known that he wasn’t quitting without a fight.

As he entered the District 32 race he warned Republicans that he intended to be their “worst nightmare.”

Republicans used that as a rallying cry and in the next three months almost $10,000 a day in campaign contributions poured into the Sessions campaign accounts.

Later, Sessions campaign manager Chris Homan characterized the Frost taunt as coming from “an angry egotist.”

Both have collected about $3 million and figure to end up with about $4 million in campaign funds Nov. 2.

On Sunday, the men met in the first of five debates — and though few thought there was a clear winner, each side thought its candidate had scored points.

They talked of jobs and outsourcing and when Mr. Frost said, “I think government has a role to play. We should be shipping our products abroad, but not our jobs,” Mr. Sessions replied: “You vote time in and time out to raise taxes, for more litigation and to make things more difficult for American businesses to be profitable in this country.”

The invitation-only debate crowd at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School was well-mannered, though brief applause erupted for both candidates at various stages.

Cal Jillson, a veteran political observer and Southern Methodist University political science professor, said because he would be moderating a third debate Oct. 14 between these candidates, he didn’t want to comment too much. But he did say Mr. Frost had the toughest job to get his supporters out.

“Thirty-eight percent of his [registered Democrats] are Hispanics and I doubt he can get a majority of them out,” Mr. Jillson said. “And there are only 8 percent black voters.

“They are in the fight of their lives,” he added.

Frost campaign spokesman Justin Kitsch said there were more Republicans than Democrats in the District, “but not enough to make Pete Sessions comfortable.”

“I’d have to handicap it for Sessions,” said Dennis Simon, an associate professor of political science at SMU. “It is an uphill battle all the way for Frost.”

Mr. Simon reminded that Mr. Sessions would be buoyed by strong sentiment in the district for Mr. Bush.

“Sessions definitely has a tail wind,” he said.

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