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Neugebauer Comes to Washington

Former Lubbock City Councilman Randy Neugebauer (R) narrowly defeated Midland accountant Mike Conaway (R) in a special election runoff for Texas’ 19th district House seat Tuesday.

Neugebauer took 50.5 percent to Conaway’s 49.5 percent, with only 587 votes separating the two men. The result was a near carbon copy of the May 3 primary in which Neugebauer took 22 percent to 21 percent for Conaway. Neugebauer’s margin in that race was 821 votes.

“In special election runoffs, turnout is everything,” Neugebauer said in an interview Wednesday.

Neugebauer was expected to travel to Washington on Wednesday night and be sworn in on the House floor at 10:15 a.m. today. He will fill the vacancy of former Rep. Larry Combest (R), who officially left the House last Saturday. Combest had represented West Texas since 1984 and served as chairman of the Agriculture Committee in the 106th and 107th Congresses.

Neugebauer said he has no specific requests for committee assignments.

After being sworn in, Neugebauer said he plans to attend the Texas delegation lunch and then listen to a briefing by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

When asked about his busy schedule, Neugebauer said that “[National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman] Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) called me Tuesday night and said get on a plane and get to work.”

Texas Sens. John Cornyn (R) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) as well as Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas) and Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) also passed along their good wishes, Neugebauer said.

In a statement, Reynolds said he was “grateful to have a man of [Neugebauer’s] caliber on board as we continue to strengthen the Republican majority in the House.”

There was little suspense that Republicans would hold the seat, however. President Bush would have won 76 percent of the vote in the 19th district in the 2000 presidential election. The top four finishers in the 17-candidate primary were all Republicans.

Neugebauer’s victory brings Republicans to 229 seats to Democrats’ 205. Rep. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) is the lone Independent.

The runoff became a geographic struggle between Lubbock, the population center in the northern end of the district, and the southern towns of Midland and Odessa, known collectively as the Permian Basin.

Conaway had a 13,162-vote margin in Midland and Odessa, while Neugebauer carried Lubbock by 11,130 votes. Neugebauer made up that deficit in the 16 rural counties that comprise the district. He carried 12 counties, after winning 11 in the May primary.

From the start of the campaign, Neugebauer pledged to run a district-wide campaign and raised the resources necessary to do so.

He regularly led the field in fundraising, eventually raking in better than $875,000. Conaway raised a little more than $640,000 for the contest.

The race was largely conducted below the radar screen, as the district’s voters were distracted by the war in Iraq and the odd election date necessitated by Combest’s resignation.

Only 14.2 percent of the 395,000 registered voters in the district cast ballots Tuesday, a slight decrease in turnout from the May primary, when 14.7 percent of those registered voted.

Political observers watched the race closely, though, as it pitted Neugebauer, a close confidant of Combest, against Conaway, who regularly touted his personal ties to the president.

During the 1980s, Conaway and Bush worked together at Bush Exploration, an oil company based in Midland, and Bush appointed Conaway to the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy when he was governor.

Neugebauer, 53, served on the Lubbock City Council from 1992 to 1998. Prior to being elected to Congress, he served as the head of the Ports to Plains Coalition, a group dedicated to creating a trade corridor between Texas and Mexico.