While the Chinese coronavirus and government-ordered shutdowns have put much of everyday Texans’ lives on hold, one thing is still certain—there are elections on the horizon.
One such primary runoff election will see a veteran congressman attempting a comeback, facing off against a relatively unknown opponent.
Following the announcement last year that Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Flores would not be returning to Congress, the field of candidates vying to replace him on the Republican ballot for Congressional District 17, a Central Texas-area district, quickly grew to 12 contenders.
The primary election on March 3, however, narrowed that field down to two candidates: Pete Sessions and Renee Swann.
Sessions is no stranger to Congress, having served in it for 16 years before being defeated by Democrat Collin Allred in 2018. Sessions’ district originally overlapped much of what is now Congressional District 17.
At the time, the announcement came as a surprise to many who had believed Sessions was preparing to mount a campaign for the seat he previously held. Though Allred only won that election with 52.3 percent of the vote, the campaign would likely have been an uphill battle for Sessions, due to concerns of election fraud in Dallas County and the changing demographics in the district.
CD-17, on the other hand, is a much safer Central Texas district for Republicans, encompassing Waco and the Bryan-College Station area. In the same election in 2018, Flores beat his Democrat opponent by 15 points.
During his time in Congress, Sessions earned a lifetime score of 77 percent on the FreedomWorks Congressional Scorecard and most recently chaired the powerful House Rules Committee. While far from the tip of the conservative spear, Sessions could probably be best described as on the right-wing of establishment Republican leadership—determined to stake out conservative positions on issues like immigration, but willing to go along with leadership to raise the debt ceiling and national debt.
Sessions has also taken heat for apparent “carpetbagging” in his recent move to the district, though the former congressman defends the action by pointing to his childhood upbringing in Waco.
After his first-place finish in the initial primary election, Sessions earned the endorsements of several of his former opponents, including third-place finisher George Hindman, who had earned the endorsements of conservative organizations such as Texas Right to Life and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.
Hindman’s endorsement, however, was more practical than enthusiastic.
“We now have two candidates from the more establishment wing of the Republican Party, so we must choose who is best for our community,” Hindman said.
That other candidate is Renee Swann.
Operating an ophthalmology office, Brazos Eye Surgery, alongside her husband, Swann’s campaign has put a heavy focus on her experience in business and healthcare.
And, not unlike many campaigns, her website touts traditional Republican talking points, such as being pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, etc.
But unlike Sessions, Swann does not have a record in elected office to learn from. During the primary election, she was criticized for voting in the Democrat primary in 2008, though Swann says this was part of the “Operation Chaos” movement of Republicans crossing over to vote for Hillary Clinton and place the nomination in limbo.
Swann, like Sessions, has also said she would not join the House Freedom Caucus if elected to office. The Freedom Caucus was founded in January of 2015 by what U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R–OH) described as a “smaller, more cohesive, more agile, and more active” group of conservative congressmen. Since then, the caucus has been instrumental in forcing policy debates on the floor of the House over issues such as debt ceiling increases as well as races for House leadership.
That position has put her at odds with many conservatives in the district but has helped earn her the support of the person she is seeking to replace, Bill Flores, who endorsed her candidacy in February after clawing back money from another candidate after they stated they would seek to join the caucus.
Whoever wins the Republican nomination will face either David Jaramillo or Rick Kennedy, who are both competing in the Democrat runoff for the seat. However, the district is considered safely Republican.
The Republican primary runoff election, originally set for May, is now scheduled for July 14.