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Martin Frost and Pete Sessions Rally Round For Pre-Debate Support

By Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX –

Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter: This summer, before many voters were paying attention to local races, candidates and the party faithful were already campaigning and fundraising full-time. This Martin Frost fundraiser at the new Dallas Gilley's on Lamar drew about 2,000 paying supporters to the largest local event the candidate said he'd ever seen. As the barbecue was being served, Frost fed his backers political red meat by referring to Republican redistricting that forced him out of his long-held seat in nearby District 24.

Martin Frost, Congressional candidate, District 32: When Tom DeLay redrew those lines, he thought I would be running for my life. I'm not running for my life; I'm running for your life every single day.

Zeeble: Even non-partisan observers though, like Southern Methodist University Assistant Political Science Professor Matthew Wilson, acknowledge this is the most competitive race Frost had to run in years.

Matthew Wilson, Assistant Political Science Professor, Southern Methodist University: I think the race is pretty close. The Sessions advantage is about 4 points. This is certainly one of the few House races in the country that at this stage is within 5 points of each other.

Zeeble: Sessions may have the advantage in part, because District 32 is 61% Republican. But Wilson says that hasn't stopped the Democrat from running a hard, aggressive campaign. At Gilley's, Frost talked of his top priorities: homeland and family security, the economy, and, in this union-heavy, ethnically mixed crowd of loyal Democrats - jobs.

Frost: You deserve a Congressman who'll create and preserve jobs here in the U.S. and not one who'll move those jobs offshore.

Zeeble: A few miles away, in a quiet North Dallas suburb, Pete Sessions' campaign workers busily do their jobs helping to re-elect the District 32 incumbent.

Anne Harding, Peter Sessions Campaign Worker: Hi, I'm Anne with the campaign staff...

Zeeble: This is an informal coffee, hosted at the home of independent oil and gas man and local Republican Club president, Mickey Kennedy and his wife. Mickey Kennedy, Sessions "Coffee" Host: I'm Mickey Kennedy, my wife Dee. Good to meet you...

Zeeble: Kennedy and the Sessions campaign invited a few dozen friends and neighbors to meet and hear from the Congressman. Like Frost, Sessions appealed to his base by focusing on homeland security, jobs and the economy. The political red meat thrown to these suburbanites started with the Congressman's support of the president.

Pete Sessions, District 32 Incumbent: The first thing I'd like to say tonight is, on behalf of George W. Bush, a great leader, a great man - I'd like to ask you to vote for George W. Bush (applause). My opponent, not unlike President Bush's opponent, is a liberal Democrat. John Kerry and Martin Frost aren't only political friends but have the same vision of and for America. George Bush and I are conservative Republicans and we have a different vision.

Zeeble: The candidate's positions on the Iraq war and the defense of Israel are similar. On most all other leading issues, Sessions backs George W. Bush on the President's wish, for example, to bolster the current Patriot Act. Martin Frost disagrees, saying moves to amend the current law may deny basic civil rights. In debates and television ads, both camps allege the other is weak on Homeland Security.

Frost Campaign Ad on Air Security and Pete Sessions: When President Bush created the Transportation Security Administration, Pete Sessions said no. When Senator Hutchison worked for more air marshals and reinforced cockpit doors, Sessions said no. When Congress voted for professional baggage screeners, Sessions said no. Even after 9/11, Sessions said air security is, quote, "too tight." Protect America. Say no to Pete Sessions.

Pete Sessions Rebuttal Ad: Have you seen my opponent's latest attack? That's Washington for you. Here's the truth: there is a difference between Martin Frost and me on airport security. He wanted unionized restrictions on airport screeners. I think they should be air safety professionals with the flexibility to do their job. And that is a big difference. The right votes aren't always easy. But I didn't go to Washington to get along with them. I went there to stand up for you.

Zeeble: At a recent debate packed with some 700 or so people at Dallas' Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, Martin Frost countered that charge.

Frost: My opponent rationalizes his vote, saying that it provided for unionization of employees. So I went back and re-read it, and it specifically says it would not unionize. So he's either confused or not being honest with you.

Zeeble: Sessions disputes such charges with another TV ad featuring Rudy Giuliani and Senator Kay Hutchison among others, who say the member of the Select Committee on Homeland Security is a national leader committed to protecting the country and freedom. For undecided voters, such charges and counter-charges can be confusing. So SMU's Wilson says voters and candidates try to simplify positions. Sessions says he votes 98% of the time with the President. He backs Mr. Bush's tax cuts, health care plans and the need to redo Social Security, and mentions his own efforts to offer businesses additional tax deals. Martin Frost calls Sessions extreme, rejecting the liberal label, and calling himself the candidate who helped balance the budget in the 1990's. More troubling, says Frost, is his opponent's proposal to repeal the federal income tax and levy a 30% national sales tax. Frost says under that plan, a $300,000 home would cost an extra $90,000, and eliminate the mortgage deduction. At the Jewish Community Center debate, Pete Sessions said the move would spur the economy.

Sessions: The plan is, is that we would do away with the 16th Amendment and this would be a new plan; it's a reform plan to give people more money and make people pay no more taxes than they're paying today. We do not want to have a family of four to pay any taxes until they're above the $40,000 threshold.

Frost: I want to make sure I heard Pete correctly. He said that a family of four that earns $40,000 shouldn't pay taxes. Under his national sales tax, if the family of four spent all $40,000, they would pay $12,000 in taxes. This is the largest tax increase in the history of the United States.

Zeeble: Sessions' reply is that Frost's record proves the Democrat is the big spender.

Sessions: Mr. Frost has voted out of 31 tax bills, 27 times for higher taxes. He's the king of spending bills that would equate to $250 billion right now of new spending that would put this country in a desperate circumstance.

Zeeble: SMU's Matt Wilson says both candidates believe they're playing their strong hands: Sessions, with his tax reforms, and siding with the President; Frost, saying he's better than his opponent on homeland security, and more balanced on fiscal issues. But the race is so close says Wilson, that they've both resorted to negative campaigning, despite an early agreement to avoid it.

Wilson: Those negatives play a big role. In a close race like this, you don't win by running sunshine ads; you win by driving a few people away from the opponent's camp.

Zeeble: On an almost daily basis, both candidates have been unveiling new attacks. Tonight at 7, the two will be questioned about the economy by citizens in the 32nd District, in a live debate broadcast on 90.1 FM, and KERA 13. For KERA 90.1, I'm Bill Zeeble.


Email Bill Zeeble about this story.