A Former Congressman’s Under-the-Radar Comeback Bid

Canseco is running for his former seat. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Canseco is running for his former seat. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted November 12, 2013 at 3:35pm

Former Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco filed his statement of candidacy in December to take back the most competitive House district in the Lone Star State.

But nearly a year later, the Republican’s comeback bid against Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Texas., remains something of a mystery to Texas GOP operatives.

So far, Canseco’s campaign has consisted of low five-figure fundraising reports, a Facebook account that was dormant until August and a handful of campaign emails over the past few months. That same Facebook page advertised his first campaign event on Oct. 13.

The order of events marked one of the softest campaign launches from a former member in recent memory. But in a Tuesday phone interview with CQ Roll Call, Canseco said he was fired up for the race.

“It’s been a soft rollout simply because I’ve changed completely my [campaign] team,” Canseco said. “It’s almost like turning a battleship. You can’t do it on a dime.”

The 23rd District sprawls from San Antonio to El Paso and recently switched party hands. Gallego ousted Canseco by 4 points in 2012, but Mitt Romney carried the district by 3 points.

But before he can face Gallego, Canseco must get through a primary less than five months away on March 4. Currently, former CIA officer Will Hurd is also running, along with Dr. Robert Lowry. In 2010, all three men ran in a five-candidate field for the GOP nod.

This cycle in fundraising, Hurd and Gallego each smoked Canseco by more than tenfold in their two most recent reports.

“Well, we hit the ground running in late September,” he said, adding that he began fundraising in earnest in October. He reported raising $15,000 in his third-quarter report filed with the Federal Election Commission, with $138,000 in cash on hand.

Bexar County GOP Chairman Robert Stovall said Canseco has been campaigning hard locally over the past two and a half months.

“He’s a strong campaigner,” Stovall said. He also praised the other GOP candidates, underscoring that he is unaligned in the primary.

Slow start or not, Canseco says he is cautiously optimistic about his chances.

“I feel very strong about it. I feel extremely strong about it. You’ve got to be very cautious about what you say and what you do,” he said, noting Hurd’s and Lowry’s primary threats. “This thing is going to be won on the ground in the primary.”

“I feel very comfortable,” he added.

But the 2014 GOP primary field could grow even more, as well. The National Republican Congressional Committee is still recruiting in the district, according to a knowledgeable source.

If no candidate gets a majority of the vote in the primary, there will be a runoff on May 27.

The race is rated Tilts Democratic by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.