Have you seen Steve Stockman?
He’s a U.S. congressman from the Houston area running for a U.S. Senate seat representing Texas, but you wouldn’t know it. Since declaring his candidacy last December he’s become something of an enigma in Texas politics, making very few campaign appearances and doing little of what you’d expect of a serious contender for higher office.
Now even many of the tea party activists seemingly crucial to his longshot candidacy -- Republicans who like the way he’s voted in Congress -- are disappointed.
“Day to day, just getting hold of him, that’s just not Steve, I guess,” said Dale Huls, the leader of the Clear Lake Tea Party, who couldn’t help noting the difference between Ted Cruz’s energetic effort to upset the political establishment and Stockman’s almost non-existent campaign.
“Ted was everywhere,” Huls said. “He went to every grassroots function he could find. He went and pursued all the tea parties. That’s grassroots campaigning. And you’re right, I haven’t seen a lot of that out of Steve during this campaign.”
Stockman has raised little money, avoided publicity, dodged interviews and stayed away from events attended by other Republican candidates. This odd behavior by a congressman running for higher office led one of the state’s most prominent political pundits, Texas Tribune Editor Evan Smith, to liken Stockman’s campaign to “an Andy Kaufman prank.”
“I think what it is, is a shot in the dark,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political science professor and KHOU analyst. “Why he did this, nobody understands. He could’ve been in Congress for many, many more years.”
Stockman’s staff did not return calls for comment, but that’s not surprising. The candidate has consistently rebuffed requests for interviews.
Stockman’s Senate campaign may seem like a quixotic quest, but he may have been encouraged by his political experience. The simple truth is that he has a history of winning unlikely victories.
In 1994, the little-known candidate rode Newt Gingrich’s Republican revolution into Congress, defeating Democratic warhorse Rep. Jack Brooks after 32 years in office. After losing the next election, Stockman sat on the sidelines for more than a decade, then won the 2012 GOP primary for a different seat and coasted to victory in a heavily Republican district.
Stockman also has a history of stirring up publicity that plays well with conservative southeast Texas voters. During his first term in Congress, he wrote an article for Guns and Ammo magazine charging that President Clinton encouraged the disastrous Branch Davidian compound raid to stir up support for an assault weapons ban. Just last year, he held a sweepstakes for an AR-15 rifle. And he offered voters bumper stickers saying “If babies had guns, they wouldn’t be aborted.”
But lately, most of the publicity attached to Stockman is the kind no politician wants. A series of articles published by the Houston Chronicle have raised serious questions about what happened to campaign cash. The stories have been highlighted in an attack TV ad produced by a Super PAC backing Cornyn.
(Stockman’s campaign responded to the Chronicle articles with an odd news release blaming the stories on a reporter’s long-festering obsession. Whoever wrote the release apparently didn’t know that the writer it mentioned by name retired years ago.)
Stockman’s opponent, incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, seemed almost bemused when asked about the campaign.
“You know I haven’t seen him since he filed for office,” Cornyn said. “He hasn’t appeared at any public events.”
Still, it’s quite possible Stockman could end up in a runoff against Cornyn, putting him into a low-turnout GOP race against an establishment Republican candidate. Nobody needs to remind anybody in Texas politics that’s the scenario that landed Cruz in the U.S. Senate.