District 31 Race Heats Up

Republican two-term incumbent John Carter and Democratic challenger Mary Beth Harrell duking it out

John Carter
John Carter

Fur is starting to fly in the District 31 congressional race between Republican two-term incumbent John Carter and Democratic challenger Mary Beth Harrell. While the campaign up until now has mostly featured Harrell trying to get voters' attention, Carter made it clear, in a recent fundraising letter, that he takes her seriously.

The thrust of the letter is that the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on redistricting raises the possibility that redrawn lines could force Carter into an open primary, and he wants plenty of cash to fight possibly multiple candidates. (Thus far none of the proposed maps has contemplated changes in District 31, which stretches from Williamson Co. up to Erath Co.) Carter then turns both barrels on Harrell, saying he expects "a nasty campaign this fall."

Mary Beth Harrell
Mary Beth Harrell

"My opponent is an attorney from New York who now lives in Killeen. She has attacked me for securing money for the soldiers and families at Fort Hood. She has attacked me for inheriting stock from my father who worked his entire life to accumulate these assets to provide for his family's security. And she has joined with national liberals who call for a "cut and run" strategy in the War on Terror," the letter reads.

That didn't sit too well with Harrell, a military wife and mom who has made her anger over the war her biggest selling point to a district loaded with Fort Hood families. "I have not and will not support any policy that squanders our son's service in Iraq or diminishes our family's proud military tradition. … My husband defended our country for 23 years in the Army. We just put our oldest boy on a plane back to Iraq to finish his tour of duty with the 4th Infantry Division from Fort Hood. In fact, my opponent knows our oldest son – he met him during his trip to Iraq in April. Our son also served in Bosnia," said Harrell in a press release. She has previously called for a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops, and in her press release she suggests they be replaced with a broad U.N. coalition similar to that used in Bosnia.

The money Carter secured for "Fort Hood families," she charges, was $7 million for "a seventh gym for Fort Hood when soldiers, their family members, and veterans urgently need more money for health care. There's something patently wrong with the federal government's spending priorities when Fort Hood currently does not have enough money to pay its bills or repair and return equipment needed in Iraq." The supposed attack on Carter's dear old dad, she says, was actually a rebuttal to a press conference Carter held on rising gas prices, in which he did not discuss his Exxon Mobil Corp. holdings or votes favorable to oil companies. After Harrell began attacking him for this, he told the Austin American-Statesman in June that his family is considering selling the stock.

As for her residency, Harrell points out that she isn't exactly pulling a Hillary Clinton – she says she's been in Texas since 1987 when her husband was stationed at Fort Hood, followed by a law degree from San Antonio's St. Mary's University School of Law and a law practice that has always been in Texas. The Harrells recently purchased a small ranch in Gatesville, Coryell County.

It's unclear exactly what Carter fears from Harrell, unless you buy into his theory a few paragraphs later that "this is not a fair fight. … The national media has a clear agenda to bring down Republicans." Back in the real world, and discounting the unlikely map-drawing, Carter appears to be in a safe district – he trounced his opponents in 2004 with 65% of the vote, and although both he and Harrell were unopposed in this year's respective primaries, the 23,438 votes Republicans cast for him tower over the 7,023 Harrell received for the Dem nomination. It would certainly seem that he has violated a basic tenet of campaigning, which is that if one appears headed for an easy election victory, ignore your opponent, lest ye give away free publicity.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Mary Beth Harrell, John Carter, Congressional District 31, Fort Hood, ExxonMobil

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