"This isn't a war, this is an election," said Congressman Randy Neugebauer. True, but it's an election between two congressman.
Randy Neugebauer. 54-years-old, Texas Tech grad, born in Lubbock. Republican. Time in office? 16 months.
Charlie Stenholm, 65-years-old, Texas Tech grad, born in Ericksdahl. Democrat. Time in office? 25 years.
Redistricting has forced a confrontation that will send one man home. Washington D.C. The seat of politics and power. The backdrop of a battleground. "I think we'll win it with grassroots support," said Stenholm. "We're going to carry this election because we're going to do well throughout the entire 19th district," said Neugebauer.
|Neugebauer vs. Stenholm - Round Two|
Both men are confident, and although he is a congressional rookie, Neugebauer has the conviction of a tenured statesman."I didn't come to Congress to play games, I came to make good policy," he said.
His opponent is a tenured statesman. There is no hallway, elevator, or committee room where he is unknown. Stenholm was first sworn in in 1979. He has served under five presidents and been on the House agriculture committee longer than anyone else. Some of his re-election campaigns have been difficult. He was once out-spent three to one. But even with all that history, this race is a first. He has never run against another sitting congressman. "No, no that's a first," he said. And that could mean trouble. Congressional incumbents traditionally enjoy a re-election rate of nearly 90%. But this time there are two of them.
"Well, it's a beautiful day in D.C.," said Neugebauer. He has conducted two polls, the latest shows him with a 9 point lead. "But you know, the ultimate poll is the one we'll take on November 2nd," he smiled. Less than three weeks before souvenir photos for interns and staffers turn into the same for one of the congressman.
|Decision 2004 Election Coverage|
Showing voters who has the cleanest smile has gotten dirty. "I think it was interesting that my opponent accused me of mudslinging when he started it," said Stenholm. "My opponent has consistently voted for more taxes," said Neugebauer.
The battle over who's a friend of taxes may push a few voters to the polls, but for maximum voter turnout, nothing compares to the White House. Neugebauer has tied himself closely to Bush. Stenholm has remained silent. "At this stage of the game I don't think that's a relevant question to ask of me. Every one of us, including the folks watching, have the privilege of a secret ballot," said Stenholm. "I don't know what that means. Obviously it's secret, but I believe he's on record saying he supports Kerry and Edwards," said Neugebauer. "He says I've endorsed Kerry - that's not true. That is not a true statement," retorted Stenholm.
With two debates behind them, Neugebauer and Stenholm have rallied the faithful. Whoever wins, the South Plains will unfortunately lose a congressman.