AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Eccentric and extremely conservative, U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman made a big splash when he entered Texas' 2014 U.S. Senate race, stunning the political world with a last-minute challenge against powerful Republican incumbent John Cornyn. But it could prove to be the high-water mark for Stockman's campaign.
Though the prospect of Stockman teaming up with the fiery Ted Cruz to shake the Senate to its core no doubt delights tea-party activists, the Republican congressman doesn't appear to most other political observers to be a credible candidate. He seems to have too little money, to be joining the race much too late and to be facing too many questions about financial mismanagement and possibly even campaign finance violations.
"It's a soufflé: It rises quickly, but then it falls — and it falls quickly because there's nothing to hold it up," Texas GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak said of the buzz created by Stockman's surprise move Monday evening. "I think polling is going to show Cornyn is not vulnerable and Stockman is not viable."
Cornyn's campaign refused to comment Tuesday. Spokesman Drew Brandewie said the about $7 million the campaign had in cash on-hand as of Sept. 30 was enough of a statement. Stockman reported having only about $32,000 in cash while carrying $163,000-plus in debts.
Mackowiak noted that barely 70 days remain before early voting begins in Texas' March 4 primary and said running a statewide television advertisement at "saturation levels" for one week alone costs $1.5 million. Just one such spot would mean Stockman has to raise about $17,000 daily — including on Christmas.
The Cornyn camp also seems to have plenty to work with if it wants to go negative. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation found that Stockman long failed to file federal campaign finance disclosure forms and that, when he finally did, he provided few details about businesses he claimed were his only source of income. Stockman also recently dismissed two congressional staffers for making prohibited contributions to his campaign.
Messages to Stockman's campaign weren't returned Tuesday. A staffer answering the phone at his congressional office said "everything's closed today, so you didn't pick a good day to call," referring to snow in Washington, D.C., that shuttered schools and offices.
Still, Stockman will likely draw support from grass-roots activists who see Cornyn, who has been in office since 2002 and is now the Senate's minority whip, as a moderate, establishment Republican.
Larry Ward, president of the political action committee Constitutional Rights, which defends the Second Amendment right to bear arms, said Stockman "wants to join Ted Cruz and give Texas two strong voices for true American values."
"We look forward to doing everything we can to help him beat the establishment," Ward said in the statement.
Stockman also could get a boost from well-funded, outside conservative groups that have helped political underdogs pull off Texas stunners before. The anti-tax Club for Growth poured $5.5 million into Cruz's 2012 campaign and helped him rise from little-known former state solicitor general to GOP primary upset winner over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the choice of the Texas Republican mainstream.
But Cruz spent years building a solid grass-roots base statewide before money from outside Texas helped put him over the top. Stockman jumped into the Senate race just hours before Monday night's candidate filing deadline. And the Club for Growth PAC said Tuesday it wasn't backing him.
"While Congressman Stockman has a pro-economic growth record, so does Senator Cornyn, as witnessed by his 87 percent lifetime Club for Growth score," club president Chris Chocola said in a statement.
Another strong Cruz ally, the Senate Conservatives Fund, says it hasn't made a decision. The same goes for the conservative activist group FreedomWorks, long a Cornyn critic.
Stockman has said a key reason he's challenging Cornyn is the senator's refusal to support the partial government shutdown that Cruz helped lead in an attempt to severe funding to President Barack Obama's signature health care law. Cornyn says he opposes the law but disagreed with Cruz over how best to derail it.
Meanwhile, Stockman only won his suburban Houston seat last year — doing so after urging voters to support his "re-election." That was based on a term he spent in the U.S. House in 1994, when he accused the federal government of "executing" members of the Branch Davidian cult following the 1993 siege outside Waco, Texas, in some sort of gun control conspiracy.