As U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert faces two Republicans in the March 6 GOP Primary, two Democrats are vying for the chance to challenge the seven-term congressman for the District 1 seat.
It’s familiar ground for Dr. Shirley J. McKellar – unseating Gohmert and representing East Texas in Washington D.C. has been a longtime goal for the veteran, nurse, educator and businesswoman. She’s not succeeded yet, but her determination hasn’t flagged.
Meanwhile, though business professor Brent Beal is a newcomer to politics, he notes a groundswell of advice, support and organization throughout East Texas as he prepares, first, for the primary and then for the mid-term election in November.
Early voting’s been underway since Tuesday: “A lot of the data is idiosyncratic, but I think we’re tracking well-above a typical midterm,” Beal said Wednesday. “If we wind up even close to a presidential-level turnout on the left, that’s pretty good.”
McKellar says she’s pushing hard to get millennials involved in the mid-term race and to draw out “sporadic” voters who miss key cycles.
“We have to engage these young folks and get right behind them,” she said Friday. At the same time, “I tell people, stop thinking that your vote does not count. We’re no longer going to be ignored by people in other parts of the state.
“I push to tell people: your vote is powerful. We can no longer be complacent in East Texas and this nation.”
McKellar says she’s ecnouraging voters to embrace a new day.
“If we continue business-as-usual then Texas will continue to be low on the totem pole for healthcare as well as education,” McKellar said, ranked 43rd and 47th out of 50, respectively. “We talk about how great the state of Texas is but look where we rate in education, look where we rate in healthcare. How great are we really?”
Both candidates continue making the rounds of District 1 as early voting progresses and primary polling approaches.
“I think the role of a Congressman is to bring everyone together,” Beal said. “We need to talk about partisanship itself. That needs to be part of the conversation … This isn’t about being a Democrat or a Republican, this is about where want to go as an economy here in East Texas.”
“We’re losing our manufacturing. We’ve got a lot of retail jobs around here and those are under pressure. Where do we want to be in 5, 10, 15 years? What kind of investments do we want to make now? How do we want to leverage ourselves?”
According to McKellar, her campaign is getting into high gear in the final stretch before the primary, following a route from Mineola and Quitman through Hawkins to Kilgore, Henderson and beyond as she makes final pitches to voters: “People are really, really fired up. They want to see some change taking place in this country in 2018.”
Both candidates acknowledge their common ground as Democrat contenders, their common purpose and their common enemy in Gohmert.
That granted, McKellar says she takes Beal to task for “just showing up now.” Likewise, while he credits her for challenging Gohmert consistently, Beal allows his primary opponent hasn’t succeeded despite multiple tries.
Reluctant to criticize, “She just hasn’t challenged Gohmert effectively in the past,” Beal said. “She’s had three goes at it, and she doesn’t appear to be doing anything different than she’s done the last three times.”
According to McKellar, her experience distinguishes her in the primary bid against Beal and will in November versus Gohmert.
“Our focus is making sure that the people understand that we need experience in that seat,” she said, making a case as the most prepared person in the race in underscoring her service in the U.S. Army, in medicine, education and private business. “I am the most qualified candidate, period. All the things Congress works on in Washington, D.C. I’ve done in my career.”
In vetting candidates, Beal said, consider fundraising success as well as organization, who is advising them and who is volunteering for them.
“What do you think the ability of the candidate is to raise the sums required to compete against an incumbent in a race like this? I think we’ve done well,” he said, reaching a $50,000 goal that seemed far-fetched to fellow Democrats at first. “That’s from small donors all over the district. I think that’s a good indication that what we’re doing is resonating with people.
Meanwhile, Beal added, there’s a healthy list of advisers on his campaign site and a growing number of helpers pushing the cause: “Again, all across the district. That’s gone pretty well for us. We spent a lot of time putting that organization together.”
The two candidates agree whoever wins will have a challenge ahead in drawing Gohmert home for a face-to-face ahead of November’s polling.
“Mr. Gohmert has brought nothing to East Texas,” McKellar said, nor is he engaging with his constituents at home. “He just doesn’t want to talk to us because we’re going to take him to task for his do-nothing policy in Washington, D.C.
“People are recognizing this and realizing this guy is not doing what he’s supposed to be doing. We’ve been losing jobs. We’re continuing to lose industry.
She heard the same from voters in the Diboll-area Thursday night.
“Talking about the jobs that they’ve lost, and everywhere throughout East Texas, I’m not sure how people can continue to vote him in. Louie Gohmert is so disrespected in Washington, D.C. he can not get a bill through. They call him the craziest man in Congress. It’s time for him to leave. If he wanted the best and greatest good for East Texas, he’d step aside.”
According to Beal, much of his time is spent reaching out to Gohmert’s conservative base in addition to Democrats and independents throughout the area.
“I think it’s unfortunate that he hasn’t been willing to hold town halls,” Beal said, avoiding events where he might face unfriendly constituents: “That’s your job, is to take questions from your constituents, especially if they have different views … He’s just going to play to his base and ignore the rest of the district.”
McKellar is also trying to encourage women to head to the polls in force.
“Women are 51.8 percent of voters in Texas and the United States, but we have less than 19 percent women in Congress. We have a lot of men making decisions for women, whereas women should be making decisions for themselves. We should have a seat at the table so we can have balance,” she said. “It takes all of us working together, both men and women, but we have to have more balance in this country, and we don’t have it.”
Justice is blind, McKellar added, unconcerned with race, creed or sexual orientation.
“She’s only interested in the scales of justice and that’s what we have to fight for, in East Texas particularly, and that’s what I see is not happening here.”
It’s another point of common ground for the two Democrats.
“Once you win an election, you belong to everybody – or you should,” Beal said. “That’s what makes a representative Democracy work. I am coming at things from a particular perspective, but I’m running to represent everybody. I’m sincere about that: I want to represent all the interests in this district to the best of my ability.
“I want to talk to everybody. I want to listen to everybody. I’ll meet with groups across the political spectrum on a regular basis, particularly groups that I don’t agree with. If I’m going to represent them fairly then I need to spend some time with them.”