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Is the 32nd District in Dallas a Walk for the GOP or a Perfect Storm for Democrats?

By Marla Crockett, KERA Reporter

Dallas, TX –

Catherine Cuellar, Morning Edition Host: While Republicans nationwide are worried about losing the House of Representatives on election day, the party's confident about retaining its seats in North Texas, including the 32nd district in Dallas County. After a bruising fight in 2004, incumbent Pete Sessions is taking it easier against his main opponent, Democrat Will Pryor, who's hoping that an old-fashioned campaign will lead to victory. 90.1's Marla Crockett has more in this Voter's Voice report:

Marla Crockett, KERA Reporter: Two years ago, Pete Sessions easily knocked off long-time Democratic incumbent Martin Frost by 10 points. It was the first election in the new 32nd following redistricting, and the race was closely watched, expensive, and nasty. The five-term Republican admits that this contest isn't as intense. He's sent out mailers, but has spent less than half of what he did in 2004. Sessions is campaigning mostly on the weekends, taking time out during the week to visit schools, like Highland Park Middle School:

Pete Sessions, Congressman, 32nd District: I'm with you today to talk about leadership and politics. When I'm in Washington (fades out)

Crockett: Wherever he goes, Sessions focuses on the economy, crediting the Bush tax cuts for creating thousands of jobs statewide. He doesn't spend a lot of time criticizing his Democratic opponent, Will Pryor. In fact, this is the only thing he had to say about him during a recent joint appearance before the Jewish Community Relations Council in Dallas:

Sessions: Will and I have had an opportunity that is not always available for people who are running against each other to conduct themselves not only in a civil way but also I think we like each other.

Crockett: Pryor seconds that. The two men have met only a few times, but both come from families with a record of public service. Sessions's father William headed the FBI for six years. Pryor's uncle, David Pryor, was governor of Arkansas and served in the U.S. Senate, and his cousin Mark is there now. Pryor, a Dallas attorney, told the group that his work as a mediator and arbiter is one of the reasons he's running for Congress:

Will Pryor, Democratic congressional candidate: Partisanship has its place. I'm a Democrat, and I'm proud of it, but both parties have an obligation to step back from this polarizing politics. I want to go to Washington as a mediator, I think I can help, and I absolutely mean it.

Crockett: That's a message the former state judge has conveyed for months while ringing more than 10-thousand door bells in the district. Walking a neighborhood near his North Dallas home, Pryor met Republican Jack Hasty:

Jack Hasty, Dallas resident: I'd like to get to know some logical Democrats. The guys I play golf with are hard over one way or the other, and they can't accommodate the other side. Pryor: I am your man. If you'll go to my web site (fades out)

Crockett: The exchange, while polite, didn't change Hasty's mind. He knows Sessions and plans to vote for him. Pryor says he's met a lot of rejection in the Republican district, but it's also been a life-changing experience:

Pryor: It occurred to me months ago, the life changing part of this is about me listening to voters, hearing what's on their minds and what they want their leaders to do. They want them respond to problems we face.

Crockett: The biggest problem, bar none for people in the district, he says, is illegal immigration:

Pryor: We need strict control of our border, more border guards and swift penalties for employers. Once we start enforcing those kinds of laws we can get control of the problem.

Crockett: Pryor admits that all of his front porch conversations have made him more conservative on immigration. He agrees with President Bush that a comprehensive solution is the answer. This is one area where Pete Sessions diverges somewhat from his strong support for the president.

Sessions: We should not reward illegalities. However, there is a process that can come about whereby we would take people who are here and allow them a work program. No pathway to citizenship, but a pathway for them to recognize the value and content of their work.

Crockett: Libertarian candidate John Hawley has made immigration his top issue. The attorney has developed a plan called insured immigration, which would require every guest in the U.S. to secure a financial backer:

John Hawley, Dallas attorney and Libertarian candidate: It could be his own family, a group of friends, it could be a private insurance company. It would guarantee that no social cost would go to the American taxpayer.

Crockett: The backers would be financially responsible for their charges and issue orange guest worker cards, which could be transferred if necessary. Hawley admits his idea is complex, but says it beats the alternatives, including a fence along the border. Sessions favors that approach, while President Bush generally hasn't. The two men also think a little differently on the war in Iraq:

Sessions: I believe if we're going to make real progress in this war that we must have the Iraqi people behind us. Overwhelmingly they say they do not want America to stay long term in Iraq, and if we use the words,'as long as it takes,' that could be an indicator to the Iraqi people that we'll be there a long, long time.

Crockett: Sessions doesn't want a timetable, but Pryor told the Jewish Relations Council that it's time for Congress to have that conversation:

Pryor: I believe we are going to win the war on terror, but it begins by ending the war in Iraq, and they are not the same thing, and I think that is a key point on which the American people have been misled now for some years.

Crockett: Pryor also believes more will come out about congressional pages and resigned House member Mark Foley of Florida.

Pryor: Pages know everything.

Crockett: Pryor and his eldest daughter were both pages in Congress. But he isn't saying much about Pete Sessions giving away the amount he got from Foley in 2004, one thousand dollars, or about the congressman's link to Jack Abramoff. Sessions received $22,000 from Indian tribes after writing a letter opposing the casino ambitions of a rival tribe. Sessions says both scandals have been blown up by Democrats:

Sessions: The Democrats knew about the Foley circumstance. They timed it very well. What Abramoff did--I don't know him, is he had a lobbying organization that played on both sides of every issue. There is no quid pro quo. There are simply people who agree with my position.

Crockett: Carolyn Barta, who teaches journalism at SMU and writes about politics for Dallas Blog-dot-com, thinks Sessions should win, but adds that the Foley scandal was the last straw for many Republicans. In a politically unstable year, Barta's surprised that this race has been virtually ignored:

Carolyn Barta, SMU Journalism Department, It's really amazing to me. The big national story, of course, is whether the Democrats will regain control of Congress, and I think we have a race in our back yard we're not paying attention to. It could be the perfect storm for Pryor even though his problem is he's not very well known.

Crockett: Or well-funded. Pryor has just over 200-thousand dollars on hand. He bemoans the fact that the national party hasn't helped him financially, but says if he should pull off an upset, he can go to Washington and not owe them anything. For KERA 90.1, I'm Marla Crockett.

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