WASHINGTON (AP) _ Shelley Sekula Gibbs was elected three times to the Houston City Council and once to a temporary seat in Congress but is in a tough Republican contest against newcomer Pete Olson as she seeks to return to the U.S. House.
Two runoff campaigns are under way for Texas congressional seats: The suburban Houston Republican runoff for the nomination to take on first-term U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Stafford, and a Dallas Democratic runoff primary for the chance to take on U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions.
The race between Sekula Gibbs and Olson, a former Senate staffer, is a prelude to one of this fall's more competitive House races.
Lampson won the seat in 2006, wresting it away from Republicans who held it for 22 years with Tom DeLay before he resigned under pressure from a campaign finance scandal.
In Dallas, attorney Eric Roberson and retiree Steve Love are in a Democratic runoff in District 32, now held by Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas.
The April 8 runoff also includes a statewide Railroad Commission contest and scores of state legislative and local races. Early voting for both races runs March 31 to April 4.
Both parties see opportunity in the Houston-area race.
"The Republican makeup of the district along with Nick Lampson's poor voting record makes this a strong potential pickup opportunity," said Ken Spain, spokesman for National Republican Congressional Committee.
But Kyra Jennings, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman, said voters see Lampson's NASA advocacy and work for the district as a "welcomed change from the neglectful and corrupt representation of Tom DeLay."
There are 233 Democrats, 198 Republicans and four vacancies in the House.
Some think the district stands a better chance of beating Lampson with Olson, although Sekula Gibbs received more votes in the first round. He has no public voting record and Sekula Gibbs carries some baggage from the 51 days she spent finishing DeLay's term.
"He's been clearly the preferred candidate of Republican party officialdom," said Bob Stein, a Rice University political science professor.
But Stein said Sekula Gibbs benefits from her longer association with the district, the lower turnout expected for the runoff and possibly higher turnout in Harris County where there is a GOP runoff in the scandal-born district attorney's race.
In the March 4 primary, both finished with less than a third of the total votes: Sekula Gibbs won about 30 percent to Olson's 20 percent.
In the first week of Sekula Gibb's short term in Congress, seven former DeLay staffers quit, complaining of bad treatment. She also drew some derision when she told reporters she planned to resolve such thorny issues as tax cuts, immigration reform and the Iraq war in her little time there.
Olson has been endorsed by some Republican political heavyweights such as Sen. John Cornyn and former Sen. Phil Gramm, former bosses, and 12 Texas GOP members of Congress. Sekula Gibbs countered with an endorsement from former Sugar Land Mayor Dean Hrbacek, who placed fourth in the primary. His support could help her win votes in Fort Bend County.
"Pete Olson is a Washington insider and I'm a local conservative candidate," Sekula Gibbs said. "We're working very hard to make sure people know he moved here just six months ago to run."
Born in Washington state, Olson lived in Texas from the age of 9 to the end of law school. After a stint in the Navy, he has worked in Washington, D.C., since 1998 as a Pentagon or U.S. Senate aide and moved back to Texas last year for the campaign.
Olson rejected the "outsider" label. He said his values better reflect the district's. "Even when I wasn't in the district, particularly in the last nine years when I was with the senators, I was working on issues important to this district," he said.
In District 32, a win by Democrats is far more unlikely. But the party's candidates Roberson and Love say its a shot worth taking amid changing demographics in Dallas County.
Love, 74, is paying for his own race with inherited money. He has been a teacher, Methodist minister, printer and small business owner. He criticized Roberson for his recent party switch, saying he would continue the "old Bush ways." Love backs Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. "I want to be part of that change," he said.
Roberson, 43, is a former Naval aviator and now is a trial lawyer representing people injured by recalled medical devices. He said he became a Democrat in 2006 and believes his Republican background will help him in Congress.
"I have worked in a factory. I've had to cut pipe … I've gone from the shop room floor to the courtroom to the board room. I want to represent all the people in this district," Roberson said.
On the Net: Pete Olson: http://www.peteolson.com
Shelly Sekula Gibbs: http://www.sekulagibbsforcongress.com
Eric Roberson: http://www.ericroberson.org
Steve Love: http://www.stevelove.com
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.