Dec. 16--First-term U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, knows he will have a tough re-election campaign ahead of him, just because of the very nature of his district.
Gallego, who was in El Paso campaigning this weekend, was elected to represent Texas' far-flung Congressional District 23 in 2012. The district includes part of El Paso's Lower Valley and extends all the way to include part of San Antonio.
Gallego doesn't have a Democratic challenger, but there are three Republicans Francisco "Quico" Canseco, Will Hurd and Robert Lowry -- already in the race to try to unseat him.
The primary election is March 4. Early voting runs from Feb. 18 to Feb. 28.
His district is the only competitive congressional district in Texas out of 36, he said, citing two examples.
In the past 10 election cycles, this district has elected five different people to Congress, Gallego said.
It's such a swing district that Texas' junior U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican, carried the district by 6 points in 2012, while Gallego won it by 5 points, the congressman noted.
The district covers just a tad less than 24 percent of Texas' land mass, Gallego said.
"You have to go everywhere, drive everywhere," Gallego said, when asked how one person can hope to represent such a diverse district. "You have to visit with a lot of people. The cool thing for me is campaigning isn't work anymore; it's more like catching up with old friends."
Gallego joked that he recently made his final payment on his 2008 Chrevrolet Tahoe but it already has 217,000 miles on it, with about 70,000 coming in the past year since he was elected to Congress.
Gregory Rocha, a political science professor at UTEP, called Gallego's district an "anomaly."
"The voters in that congressional district voted for Mitt Romney over Obama for president (in 2012), but chose him, the Democrat (for Congress)," Rocha said. "There are only eight other districts that did that, and 17 (districts) voted for Obama for president and a Republican for Congress. That represents about 5 percent of all congressional districts."
Gallego does have to worry about the 2014 race, because Democrats tend to turn out more during presidential elections than during midterm elections, Rocha said.
One thing Gallego's district does have is a huge military presence with Fort Bliss in El Paso and a handful of Army and Air Force installations in San Antonio.
Gallego was able to land a prime committee assignment on the House Armed Services Committee.
"I've learned a lot and developed great relationships with the leadership in the Pentagon," Gallego said. "I have such tremendous respect for the men and women in uniform."
Fort Bliss will continue to be a prominent installation because of its size, terrain and strong relationship with the El Paso community, Gallego said.
"We will work to continually strengthen (Fort Bliss)," Gallego said. "Fort Bliss is a core part of not only El Paso's economy, but its identity."
The recent budget deal brokered by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., provided a "very bipartisan ending to what has been a very partisan year," Gallego said. "I think it bodes well for the future; there is a spark of hope there."
The budget agreement minimizes a lot of the damage from automatic spending cuts known as sequestration, he said.
"It provides some flexibility to the military and provides some certainty over the next two years, which I think everybody desperately needed," he added.
Gallego said he will continue to take a bipartisan approach to representing his district.
"I grew up in the state House system (where he served for 22 years)," Gallego said. "The motto was, 'Vote your district.' It never said anything about being a partisan first. My approach is I'm an American first and I do what is in the best interest of the district and the American people. I think that guiding principle has served me well."
David Burge may be reached at 546-6126.
(c)2013 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)
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Distributed by MCT Information Services
Original headline: US Rep. Pete Gallego sees tough race ahead
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