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In Texas Senate District 2, Who's the Reddest of Them All?

Cindy Burkett is challenging incumbent Bob Hall for the state Senate seat in Texas District 2.

Bob Hall and Cindy Burkett are the Republican candidates vying for their party’s nomination this March to serve as state senator for District 2. Hall, a one-term incumbent is looking to retain his seat; Burkett a four-term state representative from House District 113 who’s looking to move to the other chamber.

Edited for accuracy, Jan. 31:

Ask Bob Hall and Cindy Burkett what they think the ace up their respective sleeves is, and you’ll hear pretty much the same thing. Their strength is in their voting record.

Both will tell you that their fundamental beliefs are similar. Both, for example, say they are pro-life, pro First Amendment, and pro Second Amendment. Both support infrastructure without raising local taxes. Both are big on border protection.

Both, in other words, position themselves as quite conservative. What very likely could determine the winner of the March primary, though, is just how conservative one or the other might be. And in State Senate District 2 … where still-popular Donald Trump got nearly three-quarters of the votes in 2016 … being perceived as the more conservative candidate is a serious plus.

The tactic from both camps is to paint the other as the wrong shade of red. Hall wants voters to see his rival as someone sympathetic to the left.

"She has a longer record than I do and it’s consistently moved to the left, after her first year," Hall says. "I campaigned for her, I knocked on doors when she first ran for office, believing that she would be a conservative. But her voting record down there [in Austin] does not reflect that."

Hall criticizes Burkett for supporting some measures he finds distasteful. One of those is the financial incentives filmmakers get for shooting in Texas ?? often, he says, for films that are garbage that public money should not be spent on.

Burkett sees the incentives as a welcome infusion of money.

"For every dollar that we put into the Film Commission, the return on investment is hundreds of percent higher," she says. "And in a case where you’re trying to make your budget work, why get rid of something that’s bringing in revenue that you can use in other really important parts of the budget?"

Burkett has no major criticism of legislation from Hall ?? mostly, she says, because he has little to show for his time in Austin.

I have passed 30 as flat out, just, Burkett bills, HB bills, and another 29 on top of that that were either Senate bills or amendments on bills for things that I couldn’t get out of committee," she says. "You can have conservative beliefs and conservative ideology, but if you can’t take those conservative values and govern with them and be effective with them, then I think it’s just the difference between rhetoric and results."

Hall, who has one bill passed in the House since arriving in 2014, says he's worked to get legislation passed through other lawmakers, in part because his opposition to republicans like House Speaker Joe Strauss made him several enemies who would not have passed any legislation with his name on it anyway. He says he's less interested in having his name on something than on advancing conservative in Austin.

Burkett bills herself as an “effective conservative,” one able to get things done.  Hall doesn’t see Burkett as effective so much as someone who has shifted with the political winds to get her name on legislation.

"One of the things I learned in my military experience and in my business experience is, when your basic plan isn’t working and you still have an objective to achieve, you change how you get there," he says.

But Burkett is popular with several conservative lawmakers in Austin. And when it comes to endorsements, Burkett does have the more blue chip portfolio. Among the almost-60 endorsements listed on Burkett’s campaign website are major lobby groups such as the Texas Oil & Gas Association; more than two dozen municipal government leaders and some conservative state representatives.

Hall’s endorsements, according to his website, are fewer in number than Burkett’s. They mostly include local and regional Tea Party political groups, but also the Texas Home School Coalition and a couple far-right-leaning coalitions on border defense.

But as conservative politics go, Hall does have the backing of Texas Right to Life, a pro-life group based in Houston that overwhelmingly favors himon the topic of abortion ?? often is a main issue for conservative voters.

Another ambiguous chip in the pot is money. Earlier this month the Texas Tribune reported that Burkett’s first four months of campaigning raised $322,000, while Hall’s first six months raised $414,000. About half that comes from two donations – one from the conservative PAC Empower Texans, and the other from Frisco fracking billionaire Farris Wilks, totaling $200,000. But Hall had the edge in cash-on-hand advantage entering 2018 — $198,000 to Burkett's $43,000.

It’s also worth mentioning that nearly all of Burkett’s endorsements come from more established parties based closer to her home base in Sunnyvale. She has strong support and name recognition around the more populous eastern Dallas County and Rockwall County region. But in the rural counties to the north and east Hall is ?? so far ?? a more visible name. That’s especially true in conservative small towns, such as Leonard, in Fannin County, where signs for Bob Hall dot many driveways and signs in support of Cindy Burkett are almost unseen.

Name recognition, though, is not something either candidate thinks will be the deciding factor in the March primary. 

"You’re always concerned," Hall says. "You either run scared or you run unopposed."

But he also says that his brand of conservativism has  resounded and will resound better with voters in deep-red District 2. And that "name recognition alone does it because with that name goes a voting record," which he says will be Burkett's undoing. 

Burkett says she’s “not at all” worried about getting through to voters in the rural counties where Hall has higher name recognition. What's more, she believes the people of District 2 crave action from their senator.

"I really feel there’s a lot of support from folks that believe in conservative values but they want to see something get done," she says.

Primary Election Day is March 6. The last day to register to vote in the primaries is February 5.

Editorial note

An apparent error on Texas State Representative Cindy Burkett’s website led to some confusion about who’s endorsing whom in the race for Texas Senate District 2. An old web page listing Burkett’s endorsements from the 2016 race was pulled from the campaign’s website but was not removed from the internet itself. In other words, the page could not be found by navigating from the front page of Burkett’s website, but still appeared active in web search results. As recently as last week, a Google search for “Cindy Burkett endorsements” presented the 2016 page as the first result. An earlier version of this story included reference to the 2016 version of Burkett’s endorsements that she received while running for the Texas House of Representatives. The correct information for the 2018 Senate race against Bob Hall is that at the state level, there are two state representatives that have endorsed Burkett. They are Republicans Jodie Laubenberg and John Raney. KETR regrets the error.

Scott Morgan has been an award-winning journalist since 2001. His work has appeared in several newspapers and magazines as well as online. He has also been an editor, freelancer, speaker, writing teacher, author, and podcaster.