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Democrats Hope to Make 2010 McCaul’s Last Call

Correction Appended

Over the past two weeks it has become increasingly clear that, at least for now, Democrats view Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) as their most promising target next year in the Lone Star State.

During the July Fourth recess, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ran its second round of radio ads this cycle aimed at McCaul. Then last week, Perficient Chief Executive Officer Jack McDonald, the third-term Congressman’s Democratic challenger, boasted impressive fundraising numbers for the second quarter.

McCaul, 47, represents a swath of Texas that includes the liberal suburbs of Austin and a string of conservative rural counties in between. Democrats say the former prosecutor hasn’t built up a loyal following in the district and has posted unimpressive wins over underfunded challengers in recent cycles. But Republicans argue the incumbent is a good match for the district, which is heavily Republican despite its liberal enclave, and that his 11-point win over attorney and actor Larry Joe Doherty in 2008 is hardly unimpressive (though McCaul won with less than 55 percent of the vote).

Although McDonald hasn’t hired a campaign manager or held a formal campaign fundraiser and has only established an exploratory committee, the Democrat made a noticeable splash with his fundraising numbers so far this year. In the first quarter, he raised $312,000, including just $1,000 of his own money, and he said he will report $322,000 raised in the second quarter, in a report due to be filed Wednesday.

McCaul’s camp claims he outraised McDonald in the second quarter, although his fundraising figures were not available as of press time.

McDonald said he is working to build a coalition that includes not only Democrats but also independents and Republicans, including Third Coast Capital CEO (and Perficient board of directors member) David May and Trilogy CEO Joe Liemandt.

McDonald, who turns 46 today, moved to the Austin area when he accepted a position as chief executive officer of the information technology consulting firm in 1999. He grew up in Levittown, N.Y., and attended undergraduate and law school at Fordham University. After a stint as a business lawyer, he moved into business full time, taking on major roles at VideoSite and ALTO Imaging Group. McDonald emphasizes two things about his biography: his humble upbringing and his “real world— business experience.

“My dad was a shipping and receiving manager, and I grew up in a working-class family of seven in a 750-square-foot house with one bathroom,— he said in a phone interview.

As CEO and now chairman of Perficient, McDonald said he grew the company from eight employees in 1999 to about 1,200 today, and the firm earned $230 million in revenue last year. He paints himself as a fiscal conservative uncontaminated by a career in politics.

McDonald tangled with the Republican Party of Texas at the end of May after it sent out a press release claiming Perficient owed back taxes in Franklin County, Ohio. McDonald called the allegation “completely false— and explained that the Ohio Department of Taxation made an accounting mistake when the company was in the process of switching to a new tax identification number.

That back and forth with the Republicans and the fundraising numbers have helped to build McDonald’s confidence, and he pointed to a late May fundraiser with conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh (who works for Clear Channel Communications, founded by McCaul’s father-in-law) as evidence McCaul is on the ropes.

“McCaul has never had a real challenger for this seat before,— he said.

Still, one would be hard-pressed to find a Democratic operative who would rank McCaul’s 10th district seat at or near the top of their list of prospects next year. McDonald may have confidence, but there is no doubt he faces an uphill climb in a state that has not been kind to Democrats in recent years — not to mention the fact that the party is expected to lose seats in the first midterm election of President Barack Obama’s presidency.

McCaul’s victories since his first win in 2004, when he was unopposed in the general, have come fairly easily. In 2006, McCaul defeated Democratic nominee Ted Ankrum with 55 percent of the vote. Last year, he beat Doherty with 54 percent of the vote.

After entertaining the possibility of running for attorney general in Texas next year, McCaul announced he would run for re-election.

McCaul Communications Director Mike Rosen said his primary concern with McDonald is that voters don’t know where he stands on the issues. Rosen added that Democrats’ best chance to win the district came when Obama was at the top of the ticket in 2008.

“I would suggest to you that it was about as good as it gets for Democrats,— he said.

Predictably, McDonald did not agree.

“I think we have never had before the right kind of candidate with the right kind of background with the kind of message that can appeal across party lines that we have now with resources to get the job done,— he said.

Correction: July 15, 2009

The article incorrectly noted that the Houston suburbs are liberal. The area is predominantly conservative.