by Aman Batheja
AUSTIN (THE TEXAS TRIBUNE) - The four leading Republican candidates vying to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison in the U.S. Senate will appear at what's expected to be their last televised event of the primary tonight in Houston. And they'll be joined for the first time by two of the four Democratic candidates in the race: Paul Sadler and Sean Hubbard.
The Democratic primary for U.S. Senate has drawn little attention this year; Texans haven't elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. And only two of the Democratic candidates have raised any money at all: Sadler, a 57-year-old lawyer and former state representative from Henderson, and Hubbard, a 31-year-old who recently left a sales and billing job with a Garland company to campaign full time.
The two others, educator Grady Yarbrough and Addie Allen, a disaster assistance worker for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, are also in the race but weren't invited to tonight's forum — a fact they're none too pleased about.
At tonight's event, Sadler and Hubbard will join Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and former ESPN analyst Craig James, all Republicans, at "Conversations with the Candidates," a two-hour event hosted by Houston Public Media, the Greater Houston Partnership and the University of Houston. The event will be aired by public radio and TV stations across the state and will stream live at texastribune.org starting at 7 p.m.
The event will include individual interviews with the candidates and a segment in which all six candidates answer questions submitted via social media and the audience, according to organizers. The original hosts, Republican Gary Polland and Democrat David Jones, were replaced late last week with Houston public television and radio personalities after Leppert's campaign threatened to pull out over Polland's work with a Super PAC supporting Dewhurst's campaign.
Both Sadler and Hubbard have made campaign finance reform to combat the influence of Super PACs a central plank of their campaigns. Sadler said he hopes to highlight the power of individual donors and grassroots contributions after the primary by asking all of his supporters to give just $10 each.
"If you can get a million people to donate, then you can have a serious impact," Sadler said. "You can put media in all the major markets and you can literally have an honest debate about these issues."
While the Republican candidates are collectively spending millions of dollars in their primary, Sadler reported raising just $72,800 in the first three months of the year. Hubbard has not filed any reports with the Federal Election Commission this year but reported raising $10,913 in individual contributions last year. Neither Allen nor Yarbrough reported any fundraising at all.
"I'm optimistic that when the field narrows to two people that Texans will take a look at both and the contributions will be much higher," Sadler said.
Hubbard said Texas Democrats won't be able to match how much Republicans can raise this year. He touted his campaign's use of social media as a way he can make contributions stretch farther than his competitors.
"Every dollar we spend is like $3 or $4 spent by a traditional campaign," Hubbard said.
Sadler said he is the only qualified candidate in his primary as he's the only one who has held elected office. Among the Republicans, only Dewhurst and Leppert are qualified for the job, he said.
"[The U.S. Senate is] not a place to go and all of a sudden figure out how to govern," Sadler said. "Nor is it a place where the people of Texas should gamble with what they're getting."
Hubbard doesn't buy Sadler's logic — and doesn't think voters will either.
"There's a lot of that kind of experience in Washington right now and it's not helping us," Hubbard said. "I think an understanding of how legislation affects everyday people is just as important, if not more important, than legislative experience."
Meanwhile, Allen and Yarbrough are both trying to get their own message out to voters — and are concerned that they're not invited to participate tonight. Allen said excluding any candidates from a forum is "undemocratic" and "manipulative." Yarbrough said he has trouble getting past the fact that the two Democrats included in the forum are white and the two excluded are black. "I can't say for sure that discrimination is a byproduct of that, but certainly, just from the surface, one would get that impression," he said.
A Houston Public Media spokeswoman said the organization looked at several factors in deciding which candidates to invite, including polling data, campaign infrastructure and media coverage. Along with Allen and Yarbrough, five of the nine Republican candidates were also not invited.