This race has provided quite a bit of entertainment for us armchair types.
The race to head the Harris County Republican Party is about as far down the ballot as you can get.
As such, it typically generates neither news nor drama. This time around, however, the contest to decide who will run the largest county Republican Party in the nation has garnered high-profile endorsements, big-money donations and attention in Austin.
The outcome, some say, will indicate where the GOP is headed locally and statewide in both ideology and management style.
The intra-party showdown pits 12-year chairman Jared Woodfill, a 45-year-old lawyer born and raised in Clear Lake, against Paul Simpson, 58, who is challenging the incumbent for the third time.
Simpson, an engineer-turned-lawyer who moved to Houston 40 years ago to attend Rice University, has won endorsements from such heavyweights as Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, and has out-raised Woodfill nearly six-fold thanks to generous donations from Emmett and others such as Dick Weekley, co-founder of Texans for Lawsuit Reform.
Simpson and his supporters paint the race as a battle over management style, accusing Woodfill of weak fundraising and outreach at a time when the county is growing and diversifying – and, by many measures, becoming more Democratic. They also have suggested that Woodfill has focused too much on divisive social issues, such as same-sex marriage.
At a Houston Chronicle editorial board meeting last month, Emmett complained that the local party is “driving young people away,” that hundreds of Republican precinct chair positions are vacant and at least 80 percent of the party’s money comes from its own candidates.
“The party is supposed to be supporting candidates,” he said. “Right now, the party is living off a few candidates that can raise money. I look at it and I say, ‘Look, we need a county party that understands it’s about winning elections, it’s not about giving speeches.’”
Woodfill and his supporters, in turn, have lambasted Simpson for shying away from the social issues they say will help recruit new supporters and accuse him of lobbing negative attacks without providing viable alternatives.
“There are people that believe that all social issues should be expunged from the party and that will help the marketability of the Republican Party long-term. And then, of course, there are the people that are the social conservatives that, obviously, disagree with that. And I think this is really an echo of that fight,” said longtime party leader Paul Bettencourt, who has endorsed Woodfill.
I’m just going to say this: Most Democrats I know are rooting for Woodfill to win. Those of you that vote in the Republican primary, make of that what you will.