By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
The negative campaigning by Martha Tyroch and Ralph Sheffield in the Texas House District 55 race might have alienated many voters.
That idea makes Democratic challenger Sam Murphey wonder what the winner will have in store for him after Tuesday's Republican runoff election.
Democratic nominee Murphey will take on whoever the Republicans choose on Tuesday. He hopes that the winner on the Republican side will be so busy licking his or her wounds that his rival won't be able to mount an effective campaign against him.
"I think these guys are making (Barack) Obama and (Hillary) Clinton look like school kids with their attacks," Murphey said Saturday. "I feel like scolding them a little bit. There's no telling what they'll concoct and throw in my direction, so I'm sitting here with some kind of apprehension about that."
While he won't make a prediction, Murphey said he'll be sitting back Tuesday night as an observer. While he said he has no intention of taking part in what he calls "politics of personal destruction," he said he's ready to get in the game.
"I'm kind of tired of being on the sidelines, quite frankly," Murphey said. "I was just surprised that it took this turn. I'm an interested observer, but it's way out of my control."
Murphey was there when it all began, when things were cordial.
All five candidates vying for the seat – Murphey, Tyroch, Sheffield, John Alaniz and Mike Pearce – spoke Jan. 14 at the Killeen Exchange Club meeting.
Sheffield spoke about his roots as a longtime Temple small business owner, referring to his 32 years in the community numerous times. He equated adapting to his customer's needs to adapting to the needs of the people of Bell County.
Tyroch, a former Temple councilwoman, spoke about the issues facing veterans in today's society, noting her 20 years of experience in the professional medical community.
During nearly a dozen forums since then, the candidates remained fairly cordial, though bits of animosity crept in now and then.
In late February, Sheffield's campaign sent out a mailer that attacked Tyroch's stance on the Trans-Texas Corridor. The two-sided, laminated mailer, the front of which appeared in Sheffield's most recent television spot, shows a road sign that says, "This mile of the Trans-Texas Corridor is brought to you by Martha Tyroch."
Aaron Leibowitz, a political strategist for Tyroch, said the charge that she was for the TTC can't be proved.
"Ralph was the first one to say things about us when he made false accusations about the Trans-Texas Corridor," Leibowitz said. "When I look at the amount of documentation behind what we're saying compared to what they're saying, the great lengths that we go to, he's made some completely unprovable charges. That's the core of negative campaigning."
Ted Delisi, Sheffield's political strategist, said it's simply a case of bringing your opponent down rather than building yourself up.
"You can get into a silly and unproductive argument on who did what first," Delisi said. He argued that the response was a wholly negative attack, an overreaction to something that Delisi called "a provocative way of starting the discussion." It was not a proportional response, he said.
"This is campaigning," Tyroch said. "This is showing the candidates of District 55 the facts."
Tyroch keeps a black and white copy of that mailer in her office. She points to that as validation for her own negative campaign material. She points to her time on the City Council as proof that she was always against the TTC, but Sheffield's camp doubts the validity of her claim.
"In October of 2005, there was a (TTC) recommendation signed, and it was only signed by the mayor, not the entire City Council," Tyroch said. "It was to support the TTC. Only his (the Temple mayor's) signature is on there, and he only spoke for himself. That proves in 2005, I was against the Trans-Texas Corridor."
And while she didn't speak up to support or condemn the mayor's proclamation, she didn't have the option to sign it.
"I was not going to sign it," she said. "I have opposed the Trans-Texas Corridor. It works because it's the record."
A Tyroch supporter, who requested that he remain anonymous, said he collected a packet of tax documents spanning Sheffield's entire legal history several months ago, which became the subject of a recent Tyroch television advertisement.
The man who collected that information said no self-respecting businessman would want the kind of lengthy legal history that Sheffield possesses, arguing that the government liens referenced, most recently in 2003, are indicative of a trend of more than 25 years of keeping sloppy finances.
Sheffield had a news conference last week at which he provided documents demonstrating he complied with tax laws.
Tyroch said Sheffield is reckless with his money and cannot be trusted to handle taxpayer dollars in Austin. She said that since that information was collected from public record, she had no qualms about using it in her commercial.
"We're trying to find someone who can manage the taxpayers' money," Tyroch said. "I don't want someone going to Austin who can't manage their own taxes."
Part of what Leibowitz described as a "contrast campaign" was the use of a second television ad that began running last week, one which Tyroch speaks about her stance on border security. It contains nothing about Sheffield and does not reflect the animosity the two camps have for one another.
He said that helps give the voters a choice by providing the weaknesses of the opponent in one ad, while separately demonstrating the strengths of his candidate.
Delisi firmly believes that Leibowitz didn't target the voters correctly, that it was a message that turned them off to Tyroch rather than drawing voters to her.
"When you get into negative, personal attacks, and I think Martha did, she did it in a big way, and she did it early, and I think that really hurt her," Delisi said. "When you're attacked unfairly, I think you've got to respond, and I think you've got to respond forcefully. That doesn't just mean on TV. So we responded on every media that was available. You have to be careful to be factual."
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7568