Louie Gohmert faces his biggest challenge

Rep. Louie GohmertLouie GohmertDon't create safe haven for wildlife trafficking — reject SAVES Act You want to recall John McCain? Good luck, it will be impossible Alabama's Roy Moore proves Trumpism is more powerful than Donald Trump MORE (R-Texas), one of the most colorful and conservative lawmakers in the House Republican conference, is facing a primary reelection challenge for the first time in his career.

On Tuesday, Gohmert will face two rivals hoping to end his 12-year legislative tenure.

ADVERTISEMENT
Both argue Gohmert has become an “embarrassment” to the deep-red Texas district because of his wild statements on the House floor and on television and stints like a long-shot bid for Speaker against John BoehnerJohn Andrew Boehner‘Lone wolf’ characterization of mass murderers is the epitome of white privilege Pelosi urges Ryan to create select committee on gun violence Ex-congressman Michael Grimm formally announces bid for old seat MORE.

“I think he’s an embarrassment to east Texas,” rancher Simon Winston told The Hill by phone. “He’s not getting anything done.”

“He’s an embarrassment. It’s a thing that comes up over and over when you’re talking to people,” said Anthony Culler, Gohmert’s other rival on Tuesday.

Gohmert is nonetheless seen as the favorite to win on Tuesday, thanks to the wide name recognition he commands as the incumbent.

Until now, the only time Gohmert faced Republican primary competition was during his first race for the House in 2004. If Gohmert fails to win a majority in next Tuesday’s election, the primary will go to a runoff on May 24.

Gohmert acknowledged that paltry fundraising over the years gave an opening for Winston, a self-funded candidate viewed as his more significant opponent.

He had just $188,000 in the bank for his campaign, while Winston has roughly $273,000 in cash on hand as of Feb. 10.

“I felt guilty trying to have that much in an account when, you know, I wasn’t having strong opponents in a general election and I wasn’t having any opponents in the primaries,” Gohmert said in an interview off the House floor.

When asked about charges that he’s become an “embarrassment,” Gohmert suggested his critics question their news sources.

“I’m not ashamed to say what I am and what I believe,” Gohmert said. “I’m sorry they’re embarrassed because they read left-wing stuff and I hope that in the future, if they want to feel less embarrassed, they’ll start reading more mainstream news and quit reading left-wing blogs.”

Gohmert is well known around the Capitol for giving lengthy, extemporaneous speeches on a variety of topics — usually to an empty House chamber.

An analysis of C-SPAN data in 2014 found he logged more speaking time on the House floor than any other member that year as a result of delivering long speeches — which Capitol Hill staffers refer to as “Gohmert hour” — at least once a week on average. 

In March 2014, Gohmert sought to “set the record straight” about Sarah Palin and acted out, on the House floor, the 2008 Saturday Night Live sketch with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler mocking the vice presidential nominee’s proximity to Russia. He sought to make the point that Palin never actually said herself that she could “see Russia from [her] house.

Before endorsing Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWhatever you think the Alabama special election means, you’re probably wrong This week: Congress gets ball rolling on tax reform Week ahead: Senators work toward deal to fix ObamaCare markets MORE (R-Texas) for president, Gohmert briefly flirted last year with the suggestion that he might launch a White House bid himself. Cruz has since returned the favor and endorsed Gohmert in the primary. 

The Longview News-Journal, a newspaper in Gohmert’s district, has endorsed Winston. It argues Gohmert carries too much “baggage” to adequately represent the district. 

“Winston is right that Gohmert seems always to be searching for the most outrageous statements to make on the House floor or in one of his endless appearances with right-wing radio hosts. Those jewels then rebound around the country, leading people to believe all East Texans think the same way,” the editorial reads. 

“We don’t.” 

Gohmert said he anticipated he’d face a primary challenge after launching a protest bid against John BoehnerJohn Andrew Boehner‘Lone wolf’ characterization of mass murderers is the epitome of white privilege Pelosi urges Ryan to create select committee on gun violence Ex-congressman Michael Grimm formally announces bid for old seat MORE.

He only won three votes in the contest, from himself and Reps. Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineJim Bridenstine is the leader NASA needs The United States and Canada can make space great again together Trump stacks administration with climate change skeptics MORE (R-Okla.) and Randy WeberRandy WeberGOP worries as state Dems outperform in special elections How Republicans split on the Harvey aid, fiscal deal House passes Trump deal on majority Democratic vote MORE (R-Texas).

In response, GOP leaders revoked Gohmert’s travel privileges for trips to Egypt and Africa last year.

“I knew there would be a price for that,” Gohmert said. “There’s been a price here and there’s been a price back home.”

It hasn’t kept Gohmert from challenging authority. He was one of nine Republicans who voted for Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) instead of Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanThe Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Gun proposal picks up GOP support GOP lawmaker Tim Murphy to retire at end of term MORE (R-Wis.) in last year’s Speaker election.

Rather than viewing Gohmert as a martyr, Winston said the repeated decisions to alienate leadership have made it harder to deliver for the district.

“He’s just dead in the water,” Winston said, claiming that business leaders in Tyler, Texas, have told him Gohmert has been unhelpful for them. 

Winston said he’d vote to reelect Ryan as Speaker in the next Congress if he wins the election, as a matter of pragmatism.

“Republicans have got to come together and not fight amongst ourselves like we’re doing,” Winston said.

At the same time, Winston said he cast his vote early for Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE in the presidential primary.

Neither Webster nor Culler indicated that they’d vote much differently on policy issues than Gohmert.

“I’m hoping to match it,” Culler said of Gohmert’s voting record. “I agree with the man on issues across the board.”

Culler’s bid stems from frustration over a six-year legal battle that began with a mineral rights dispute on his family’s Nacogdoches, Texas, ranch. He says the local sheriff’s department illegally raided his home after it went into foreclosure, but Gohmert wouldn’t help him.

Culler’s desire for a sense of justice drove him to enter politics. The South Carolina native first ran for Congress in 2014 in a long-shot bid against Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). His family recently moved back to Texas, after which he launched a campaign against Gohmert.

“Maybe my story is kind of unique,” Culler said. “But there are people being crushed all the time and this is normal.”

Gohmert has maintained he did everything he could to help Culler and his family. 

“My heart goes out to the Culler family, but to make allegations on me, to say I turned my back, is completely untrue,” Gohmert said at a candidate forum this month.

Despite his challengers’ attacks, the power of incumbency still favors Gohmert. In addition to Cruz, Gohmert has secured endorsements from groups such as the Family Research Council's political action committee and the Gun Owners of America.

Gohmert’s outlandish statements generally haven’t fazed constituents in the deeply conservative region over the years, said Lee Payne, a political scientist at Stephen F. Austin State University, which is located in the district.

“Most of them probably won’t know he’s got a challenger until they get the primary ballot,” Payne predicted.

Neither Winston nor Culler have conducted polling ahead of next week’s primary, making it difficult to gauge exactly how much support they have. Winston has four volunteer staffers, while Culler’s campaign is, in his words, “100 percent by myself.”

Gohmert said he’s learned his lesson to avoid another primary challenge and intends to raise more money in future cycles to deter anyone. 

“It’s not the kind of close election I think that some thought it might be. But, I do have a self-funder that’s slinging lots of mud. And one of the things I hope that we’re able to do is keep any of the seeds from germinating that he’s trying to sow,” he said.

Still, he appeared confident he’d prevail on Tuesday.

“I will do fine,” he predicted.