Republican Deanna Metzger is something of a rarity this election cycle.
She’s running in one of the only Texas House districts Republicans have the potential to take back out of Democratic hands. While many nearby incumbent Republican lawmakers are fending off tough challenges from Democrats hoping to capitalize on North Texas’ shifting electorate, Metzger is hoping to unseat freshman state Rep. Victoria Neave from the swing district east of Dallas.
That could mean a rare pickup for Republicans, who are in little danger of losing their dominant majority in the Texas House, but this year are more focused on defending it than growing it.
Metzger, a businesswoman and attorney who owns a construction company, has been an outlier before. In this year’s Republican primary elections, she bested Joe Ruzicka, making her one of just a few hardline conservative candidates to take down a more moderate opponent. Metzger, for example, suggested she would support some version of a controversial “bathroom bill” that would restrict transgender individuals’ access to certain public facilities; Ruzicka called the proposal bad for business and a waste of time.
That puts her election bid on difficult footing in a district that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But Metzger said she’s feeling confident.
“We’re feeling great, we’re seeing a ton of positivity, lots of support,” Metzger said in a phone interview Tuesday, standing near a polling place in Mesquite’s City Lake Park. She paused briefly to shake the hands of a few voters entering the polls, then added, “It is insane. The energy level is great.”
For her part, Neave — who won her seat from Republican Kenneth Sheets by just 836 votes in 2016 — said 2018 will be a good year for Democrats. With less than a week until votes are tallied, the incumbent Democrat carries a hefty financial advantage — she holds nearly $100,000 more cash on hand — and carries the optimism many Democrats feel about the Dallas area, which in recent years has been trending more Democratic, not less. But Neave also has to contend with the negative attention she drew last year after she was arrested for driving while intoxicated, one factor that’s made Republicans optimistic.
In her first term in the Texas House, Neave made waves advocating for progressive issues. She authored a bill allowing for crowdfunding to test a long backlog of rape kits; that effort had raised nearly $500,000 as of Oct. 9. Neave drew national headlines for a days-long hunger strike protesting an anti-“sanctuary city” bill being considered at the Capitol.
She is hoping those progressive policies spur her to victory in an area of the state that’s proven highly competitive this year. In nearby districts, Republican state Sen. Don Huffines is facing a tough challenge from a Democrat in a district he won easily in 2014, and state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, a member of the Texas House Freedom Caucus, may be in hot water in his contest against Democrat Julie Johnson.
Despite the competitiveness, Neave is hoping to win her district on a bipartisan coalition of support.
“We expect it to be close. We’re working hard to earn the votes of Democrats, independents and Republicans,” Neave said. “We have many individuals who are willing to vote across party lines.”
But Missy Shorey, who chairs the Dallas County GOP, said Republicans are optimistic about flipping the seat back. It’s “a toss-up district,” she said. But “when you calculate the enthusiasm, the experience, the ethical advantages our candidate has, there is no comparison.”
Looming over the campaign is Neave’s June 2017 DWI arrest. The Dallas Democrat, an attorney, pleaded no contest to the charges and has expressed regret for the incident, calling it a “personal mistake” and pledging to learn from it.
“I think about that every day. I feel terrible about it. I said I was going to take responsibility and I did,” Neave said.
But it’s by no means the most important issue in the campaign, she added.
“There’s so much at stake in this election and I wanted to continue to fulfill my responsibility and my fight for women and survivors,” she said.
Metzger — who said she had a close relative who was killed by a drunk driver — has capitalized on the DWI campaign issue. Voters, she said, “want someone in the House who will follow the laws they help write.”
In the final lead-up to Election Day, yard signs have popped up in the district that show Neave’s face below an all-capitals label: CONVICTED CRIMINAL. Metzger said her campaign had nothing to do with the signs and she was surprised to see them — but she didn’t object to their message.
“People here really reject this girl — not as much as a Democrat but as morally corrupt,” Metzger said.
For her part, Metzger has faced accusations that she does not live in the district she hopes to represent — allegations that are notoriously difficult to definitively resolve. According to WFAA, a Dallas-area TV station, Metzger is registered to vote at a house in the district, but appears to live in a more expensive home in a gated community outside Fort Worth.
Metzger insists that she meets all the requirements to run in the district.
“As a matter of fact, come by sometime,” Metzger jokes, saying she’s planned an election night victory party at a house she owns in the district. “Bring ice.”
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.