In a redrawn district, Republicans slugging it out as runoff nears

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX) - Sunday, July 1, 2012
Author: Anna M. Tinsley, atinsley@star-telegram.com Star-Telegram Staff Writer

*They're reintroducing themselves to voters, most of whom backed some other candidate. 

With just one month to go, Roger Williams and Wes Riddle have their work cut out for them. 

After all, they know that three-fifths of those who cast ballots in May in the 12-way Republican race for the 25th Congressional District didn't vote for them. 

Williams, a well-known Weatherford auto dealer with deep local roots who recently moved to Austin, was the front-runner, with 25 percent of the vote. Riddle, a retired Army officer and Tea Party activist in Gatesville, edged other competitors to take the No. 2 slot, with 14.56 percent. 

Now the two are crisscrossing the dramatically revamped district - which stretches from the edge of Tarrant County into Austin - to get the word out about their campaigns. 

"We are out in the district every day attending meetings with community leaders, grassroots activists and voters from all across the 25th Congressional District," Williams said. 

"People are opening their homes to host meet-and-greet events for us. We are knocking on thousands of doors, and our volunteers are calling thousands of more voters to talk with them about the future of our nation and my belief that we must have a more conservative Congress." 

Likewise, Riddle said he's visiting Republican groups, events and Tea Party gatherings districtwide. 

"I'm traveling the district, continuing to meet with people and garner their support," he said. "I'm thanking them for voting for me if they did and reintroducing myself to the bulk of the people. Sixty percent of the people didn't vote for me or Roger, and I have to remember that. Those who did vote for me, I'm asking them to turn out again." 

The two are entering the final stretch before the July 31 runoff, which will determine who will be on the ballot in November, facing Democrat Elaine Henderson of Lago Vista. 

Friendly fire? 

Last year's redistricting flipped the district so much from Democratic-leaning to Republican-leaning that the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, switched to District 35 for his re-election bid. 

The overhauled district - now home to the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant near Glen Rose, Fort Hood near Killeen, the University of Texas at Austin and the Capitol - draws its biggest population base, about 240,000 voters, from the Austin area. But it also includes 150,000 residents in Johnson County and more than 7,000 in Tarrant County. 

As they have traveled these areas, Williams and Riddle have criticized the healthcare law and other initiatives from President Barack Obama and condemned work by other top Democrats, such as Attorney General Eric Holder. 

But they have fired at each other as well. 

Riddle gives Williams credit for being a "successful car dealer" who has branded himself "the business candidate." 

"But I fundamentally disagree with his characterization of what's needed in Washington," he said. "I understand how important business is; I support small businesses. ... The problem we are in is not caused by a failure to apply business principles to government but to apply constitutional principles to government." 

Williams, meanwhile, takes Riddle to task for supporting candidates through the years who were not Republican. 

"My opponent is a good man who sees things somewhat differently than I do," he said. "For example, in 2010, he served as the campaign manager for a third-party candidate that ran against Gov. Perry. I was proud to stand by Gov. Perry, who I believe is the most conservative governor in America." 

Riddle 

Riddle retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel after 20 years of service that included tours in Europe and the Pacific. He commanded a Patriot missile battery that targeted Scud missiles in northern Saudi Arabia and worked at the Office of Military Cooperation-Kuwait. 

He also taught at the U.S. Military Academy and Central Texas College and was a small-business man. 

He founded and headed the Central Texas Tea Party and has promised to start impeachment proceedings if Obama is re-elected, partly because "the State Department is giving away seven strategic, resource-laden Alaskan islands to Russia" and because of "President Obama's abuse of power and blatant disregard to the Constitution." 

He said it's time to hold Obama accountable. 

"I do believe that we need congressmen who are actually willing to go to the mat with the president over constitutional issues," Riddle said. "If he straightens up and flies right, there wouldn't be the need." 

Other key issues in the race, he said, include promoting fiscal responsibility and free enterprise, encouraging limited government, making laws less onerous and securing the U.S. borders. 

"We do not have an incumbent in this race; it is an unusual set of circumstances," he said. "It's critical for people to make their selection in this race. 

"Our future is at stake. We truly are headed toward a financial cliff." 

Williams 

When Williams was growing up, his father, Jack Williams, was a well-known Chevrolet dealer in Tarrant County. Roger Williams went on to make his own mark as a car dealer - and the state's top election officer - and became instrumental in the Texas Republican Party along the way. 

Through the years, he became a powerhouse in raising money for GOP candidates, including George W. Bush in his campaigns for governor and president. Williams also served as Texas secretary of state from 2005 to 2007. 

He first planned to run for Kay Bailey Hutchison's U.S. Senate seat, then the newly drawn 33rd Congressional District. But after courts intervened, changing boundaries on some districts, Williams switched races and moved to Austin. 

He said the top issue is repealing the healthcare law, recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

"Unless we can elect a more conservative Congress to dismantle the years of social engineering that are driving our nation's debt, economic problems and taking our freedoms, we will look more like a European socialist state in a very short time," he said. 

"This is a fight to preserve our liberties, our personal freedoms, and to protect the fundamental beliefs enshrined in our Constitution." 

More than anything, Williams said he wants voters to know that he's a fighter. 

"I am pro-life, pro-gun, pro-business and anti-Obama," he said. "I will fight every single day in Congress to undo the last four years of excessive spending, excessive taxation and excessive regulation so we can return our country to the core values that made our country great: faith, family and freedom."

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