Published May 30, 2012
In a stunning upset, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) lost a primary challenge Tuesday to former El Paso City Councilman Beto O’Rourke. Reyes becomes the sixth, longtime incumbent to fall this year.
The Houston-based super PAC Campaign for Primary Accountability, which targets incumbents, spent over $150,000 against Reyes.
The group’s influence across states and parties contributed to various House members’ primary losses earlier this year, including Reps. Jean Schmidt (R-OH), Don Manzullo (R-IL) and Tim Holden (D-PA).
Reyes has served in the House since 1997 and formerly chaired the House Intelligence Committee. He touted endorsements from President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton. He also spent nearly $500,000 this year, nearly $200,000 more than his opponent.
O’Rourke charged that Reyes’s influence on Capitol Hill had faded. He also pounced on reports that Reyes used campaign funds to pay family members. The Congressman has denied any wrongdoing.
Reyes, meanwhile, tried to paint O’Rourke as someone with a troubled past. He pointed to O’Rourke’s previous charges of driving under the influence and burglary, as well his strong support for marijuana legalization.
Reyes’s campaign sent out an email to supporters early Tuesday warning of a possible low turnout.
“[O]ur data shows that over 9,000, yes 9,000 voters who have said they would vote for me have not voted yet. This is exactly what the opposition is hoping for. They think El Pasoans won’t come out to vote and they think they can sneak out a win,” the email said.
Upon being tapped to lead the Intelligence panel, Reyes famously botched a December, 2006 interview with Congressional Quarterly when he mixed up whether Al Qaeda was Shiite or Sunni.
"Why do you ask me these questions at 5 o’clock?" responded a flustered Reyes.
Texas gained four Congressional seats this year in the redistricting process due to a jump in the state’s Hispanic population over the last decade.
A federal court in San Antonio earlier this year rejected the initial map of the redrawn district boundaries that had favored Democrats. The fight eventually landed before the Supreme Court, which called for a new map. A final compromise by the lower court made two of the districts friendly to Democrats and the other two tilt toward Republicans.
The seat is expected to remain in Democratic control.