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Texas US House race spurs TV buying frenzy

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Posted: Oct 16, 2012 5:14 PM

Updated: Oct 16, 2012 5:14 PM

SAN ANTONIO (AP) One of the most competitive U.S. House races in the country comes down to San Antonio, where viewers are being bombarded with TV ads aimed at swaying them in a toss-up that's adding a splash of drama to an otherwise predictable slate of Election Day races in Texas.

At least $4.2 million is being spent in the nation's seventh-largest city on ads trying to sway viewers deciding whether to keep freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Francisco Canseco or replace him with Democratic challenger Pete Gallego.

The sprawling 23rd Congressional District which has gone from Republican to Democrat and back to Republican since 2004 stretches 600 miles west to El Paso. But the race figures to be won or lost along a boundary cutting through San Antonio and surrounding Bexar County, the most urban areas of a district otherwise mostly made up of rural counties.

So expansive is the district that it spans four television markets. But almost all of the television buys are in the San Antonio market, where records filed with the Federal Communications Commission show nearly $2.2 million in ads for Canseco have been bought or reserved from late September through Election Day.

Ads backing Gallego are being paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Majority PAC and the League of Conservation Voters.

In all, nearly 5,000 spots across the four major networks have been reserved for the race.

"You kind of reach a saturation point in some ways," said Walter Wilson, a political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio who has studied Latino representation in Congress. "But they're reaching the vast majority of voters."

There won't be many close calls Nov. 6 in Texas. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney should easily pick up the state's 38 electoral votes, and tea party insurgent Ted Cruz is believed to have a commanding lead over Democrat Paul Sadler in the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Even in statehouse races, few surprises are expected in districts that are mostly solidly Republican or Democratic. Along the Texas coast, Ron Paul's redrawn congressional district is giving Democrats some hope of taking the seat long held by the retiring former presidential candidate, but the district still leans Republican.

Canseco and Gallego, on the other hand, have commanded attention and money from both national parties. Canseco narrowly outraised Gallego in campaign finance reports released this week. The 63-year-old Laredo businessman raised about $526,000 and reported about $1.1 million in cash on hand.

That's tenfold the amount of Gallego, 50, a longtime state representative who raised about $503,000 in the latest quarter.

The League of Conservation Voters, which backs candidates based on their environmental records, committed about $300,000 to Gallego after sitting out the district's close race in 2010. That's when Canseco narrowly beat then-congressman Ciro Rodriguez with less than 50 percent of the vote.

Both candidates decry either the amount of money being spent or the tone of the political ads, but both are leaning on television to win. Last month, Univision hosted a debate between Gallego and Canseco that was entirely in Spanish, which both campaigns believe was a first for a congressional race. Nearly two-thirds of the district is Hispanic.

Gallego has been positioning himself as a Democrat with a record of working with both parties in the statehouse.

"(Canseco) parrots the party line, and I think people are tired of that," Gallego said. "I think people want to call them as they see them."

Canseco, who was elected two years ago in a wave of Republican momentum that gave the GOP control of the House, said he's not tied to his party label.

"I align myself with the Republican Party, but I align myself more than anything else on the values that I stand for and the work I've done, and on the work I hope to do for the people of the district," Canseco said. "And not what the party says or what the party doesn't say."

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

Topics: Border Campaign-Cash Splash

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