In a development that came completely out of the blue, multiple media organizations reported on Tuesday evening that former GOP Rep. Pete Sessions, who lost his bid for a 12th term last year in Texas’ 32nd Congressional District, would seek a comeback in the open 17th District. Sessions hasn’t said anything yet, but the following day, the McLennan County Republican Party publicized that they’d be hosting a “Pete Sessions Candidacy Announcement” for the 17th District on Thursday afternoon.
The news that Sessions will be running to replace retiring Rep. Bill Flores, a fellow Republican, came as a huge surprise for a number of reasons. To begin with, Flores’ 17th District, reliably red turf that includes College Station and Waco, is nowhere near the suburban North Dallas seat that Sessions represented for 22 years. There’s about 80 miles (and two or three congressional districts) separating the nearest point between the two constituencies, and the major population centers of the 17th District are located even further away.
Sessions was born and raised in Waco, but he hasn’t lived there in a very long time. What’s more, less than 3% of the 17th District is in the Dallas media market, so Sessions’ would-be constituents haven’t seen much of him on TV during his decades in Congress, either.
Until now, Sessions had repeatedly said he was interested in seeking a rematch with freshman Rep. Colin Allred, the Democrat who unseated him 52-46 last year, and he never so much as hinted that he was looking elsewhere. Just last week, in fact, Sessions took umbrage with Allred after the Democrat said he was considering voting to impeach Donald Trump. “He is definitely now back on my radar," said Sessions. "My interest is piquing towards re-engaging him in that battle.”
It seems that in just those few days, though, Sessions’ interest piqued towards leaving behind Dallas behind and moving to a much redder seat. On Tuesday evening, the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin wrote that Sessions was relocating to Waco, which is more than 100 miles away from Dallas.
However, Sessions wasn’t always such a fan of people launched bids for seats where that they don’t currently live in. Just a couple of months ago, when former Navy SEAL Floyd McLendon announced that he would seek the GOP nod in the 32nd District, Sessions responded by snarking, “Has he moved into the district yet?”
And what do Republicans in the 17th District think about Sessions running in their backyard? Flores told the Texas Tribune on Tuesday evening that the reaction “has not been positive,” saying local leaders had told him “they would prefer someone who currently lives, works, and serves in our communities.” Flores seemed to be just as stunned by the news as everyone else, since he continued, “Pete is a friend of mine, but I wish he'd called me first,” adding, “I could have provided some valuable feedback to him.”
Sessions also doesn’t seem to be scaring other Republicans out of the primary in his new home district. Attorney Wes Lloyd announced Wednesday that he was forming an exploratory committee and hoped to decide whether to run in two weeks. Lloyd told the Tribune that he’d been leaning against running until Tuesday night, though there’s no word what role the Sessions news played in his renewed interest.
There is probably one group that will be happy to see Sessions bolt Dallas: Republicans who actually want to beat Allred. Sessions never seemed to realize just how fast his once reliably red district, which swung from 57-42 Romney to 49-47 Clinton, was becoming competitive, and he ran a weak campaign amid 2018’s blue wave. Some of his old allies had even said that they didn’t want Sessions making a comeback in the 32nd, and while the ex-congressman responded incredulously to those calls over the summer by asking, “Why would they need a new candidate?” it seems that he has, in his own way, agreed that it’s time for one.
The good news for Republicans is that Sessions probably would win a general election in the 17th District, a seat that backed Donald Trump 56-39. However, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz carried it by a narrower 54-45 spread two years later (Democrat Beto O’Rourke took the 32nd by a 55-44 margin), so it’s possible that a lousy GOP candidate could give Democrats an opening. Sessions may just fit that bill.
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