The bigger the race, the harder the climb. This rings true most of the time and retired Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw proved himself a climber last month. Local and state elections can be won by a hard-working candidate, efficient spending and a well-run campaign. That is not always the case in Congressional and statewide races where money, name recognition and political connections often rule the day. That is why Dan Crenshaw’s performance in the Texas Republican Primary for Congressional District 2 is so impressive.
I met Dan at one of the many Republican meetings in Houston during the 2018 primary season. It would be hard to meet the well-spoken, decorated war hero and not become a supporter. He served multiple tours in Afghanistan and was critically wounded when an IED exploded just feet away and cost him the loss of his right eye. Even after that gruesome injury, retired Lt. Commander Crenshaw returned for not one but two more tours of duty.
There were two seemingly unbeatable candidates in the race and one of them was very rich. Kathaleen Wall raised nearly $6 million, all but about $30,000 of which was her own money. She spent more per vote than anyone else in the entire country in an effort to earn a spot in the runoff for the highly contested 9-way race to replace retiring Congressman Ted Poe. Mrs. Wall received the coveted endorsement of United States Senator Ted Cruz and those who tuned in for the State of the Union Address would have seen her standing right next to the North Korean defector that the President honored during his speech. Her TV ads were everywhere and voters mailboxes were stuffed with her campaign materials. She seemed to be the inevitable nominee for the Republican Party.
Meanwhile, State Representative Kevin Roberts received virtually every endorsement possible and quietly raised a huge sum of money of over $3 million. That combined with his name recognition and conservative platform put Dan Crenshaw in a very difficult position.
Election night returns came rolling in as I arrived for Harris County GOP Chairman Paul Simpson’s victory party. Kathaleen Wall’s campaign actually rented out the 2nd floor of the same restaurant and it was a lively, optimistic group. No one expected what happened next.
After beginning to celebrate Paul’s victory, all eyes turned to the delayed results from CD2 which had Roberts outperforming expectations at roughly 35% of the vote with Wall in a comfortable 2nd around 25%. However, as votes from election day were counted, the little-known Navy SEAL who many conservatives were secretly rooting for was closing the gap. He secured the endorsement of Houston-based rebellious radio personality Michael Berry and raised a fraction of his opponents, just $65,000 but with a strong message and passionate volunteers, he had a shot at making the runoff. Conservatives activists whispered throughout the room, “I can’t believe it’s this close, she spent so much money!”
As more and more precincts reported in, the margin went from a few thousand to a few hundred to a few dozen until finally, with 100% of precincts reporting, Dan Crenshaw was incredibly just 155 votes ahead of Kathaleen Wall and headed into a runoff with Kevin Roberts. He built momentum in the crucial final days, improving his portion of votes in early and election day voting.
I saw Mr. Crenshaw a couple weeks later at the Harris County GOP Lincoln Reagan Dinner. I congratulated him and asked the million-dollar question, “How’d you do it?” He responded, “We just worked hard and had a lot of supporters at the polls. I don’t know what people are always complaining about, it was a lot of fun.”
Since then, Dan has become something of a conservative media star with publications such as the DC Caller making the following video mocking the terrorists who took his eye:
It remains to be seen whether Mr. Crenshaw will be able to weather the political experience of a state legislator such as Kevin Roberts but regardless of the outcome, he has inspired and reassured thousands of underdogs that they should run and if they do, they just might win.