Cruz’s shadow looms over Sessions race

Courtesy of Katrina Pierson

Sen. Ted Cruz’s shadow lurks over a high-profile primary challenger of a high-ranking House Republican. [WATCH VIDEO]

Katrina Pierson, a surrogate for the Texas Republican when he ran for the Senate last year, is taking on House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas).

Like Cruz, Pierson has been outspoken in her calls to repeal ObamaCare and supported Cruz’s strategy that led to the recent government shutdown.

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In an interview on Tuesday, Pierson declined to say whether she would seek Cruz’s endorsement. But she hinted that she’s confident he would back her if she asked.

That would pose a problem for Sessions, who has represented the northern Dallas district for nearly two decades.

“I have not asked for his endorsement yet,” Pierson told The Hill, noting that she was on the front lines for Cruz during his long-shot bid in 2012. 

Asked if she would broach the endorsement issue with Cruz, Pierson said, “I’m not sure ... when January comes, and things get rolling, and we start rolling out the endorsements, he may want to be one of them. 

“I may ask him, I may not. We are just not there yet.” 

Pierson said that she has “talked to all the relevant organizations,” including Heritage Action, the Club For Growth and FreedomWorks, to “let them know that there is a viable challenger in Texas District 32 ... I suspect that we’ll be talking to them again very soon.” 

FreedomWorks endorsed Pierson in September. Matt Kibbe, the president of the group’s political action committee, said at the time, “While incumbent Rep. Pete Sessions seems more concerned with keeping his seat at the leadership table, Katrina understands the importance of connecting to the grassroots at home and sticking to your guns in Washington.”

Cruz has told incumbent GOP senators he would not meddle in their primary races, but he has not made such a promise to House Republicans. 

The Tea Party senator carries an enormous amount of sway among the conservative base. But it is unclear if he will keep his political powder dry or use some of it on insurgent primary challengers, especially those from his home state of Texas.

“It will be fascinating to see what Ted Cruz does,” said Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson, adding it would be “shocking to the Tea Party folks” if he were to opt not to endorse former supporters who run for office.

Sessions has more than $1.5 million in his campaign war chest, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Pierson has raised nearly $50,000, but hasn’t held an official fundraising event. That will occur in the next few weeks.

She has been a leader in the Tea Party movement in Texas and has been interviewed on cable news shows, including various appearances on Neil Cavuto’s show on Fox News.

Cruz inspired Pierson to run for Sessions’s seat, she said. In an interview with The Kitchen Cabinet, Pierson said she “started out as the daughter of a 15-year-old white mother and a black father.”

Pierson’s campaign website states that “she has been honored to share the stage with top conservatives including Senator Jim DeMint, Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, Andrew Breitbart, Michelle Malkin, Ginni Thomas and many others.”

Her “background is in the healthcare industry, “ according to the website, and she holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Texas at Dallas. 

Jillson said that “if the big money people on the Tea Party right in Washington start pouring money in, I think Cruz will have a difficult time not joining in.”

Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said the freshman senator “has said he is not likely to get involved in any incumbent primary races.”

That doesn’t completely shut the door, however.

Texas political consultant Matt Mackowiak said, “This is not an easy call; it is not an obvious call. Katrina presents a unique case for him because there are not a lot of Cruz volunteers running for office. It’s rare that you find these super-volunteers who are able to credibly run for state or federal offices.” 

Pierson was regularly quoted in news articles during Cruz’s hard-fought GOP primary campaign in 2012.

Sessions, meanwhile, didn’t endorse a candidate in that race.

As head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Sessions helped the GOP reclaim the House majority in 2010.

A source close to Sessions suggested it’s unlikely Cruz would get involved in the primary.

In a video interview posted on YouTube, the Rules panel chairman indicated he did not agree with Cruz’s strategy on ObamaCare during the recent government funding and debt-ceiling fights.

Like Cruz, Sessions voted no on the bipartisan agreement that ended the fiscal showdown.

Sessions said conservatives in Texas support his campaign. 

“I’m honored and humbled to have the support of tens of the thousands of conservatives across my district,” Sessions told The Hill in an emailed statement.

 

Haley Bissegger contributed.

 

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