By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
Television advertising and direct mail pieces from Democratic nominee Sam Murphey aimed at Republican Ralph Sheffield intensified the House District 55 race last week and ignited a swarm of attacks between the candidates.
And it's just the beginning.
Murphey remains firm in his stance that the ads are issue-based and supported with documentation while Sheffield says Murphey misrepresented Sheffield in the ads and lied to the people of Bell County about a positive message.
The final week of early voting before the general election is reminiscent of the intense battle during the primary when Sheffield faced off against fellow Temple Republican Martha Tyroch in a campaign that targeted the personal character and reputation of each.
Murphey charged that Sheffield's clear overreaction to this latest issue-based campaign is similar to the character assaults against Tyroch in the primary.
"It was horrible, probably the worst campaign in the state of Texas," Murphey said. "And the damage he did to Martha Tyroch is inexcusable, and I will tell you that he took advantage of a situation. The truth was not told, and I'll stand up for Martha Tyroch at any time. She is not guilty of the things he threw at her ? So I will defend her against Ralph Sheffield any day, and I wish he hadn't done that. But that is his nature, not mine."
On Friday, more than six months after the April 8 primary, Tyroch said she continues to follow the race with great interest, but declined to comment on the latest developments, only saying, "I wish both the candidates the best."
The actions in the Republican primary aside, Sheffield and his campaign say that the ads from Murphey go against his word that he would run a positive campaign message, and the ads not only go directly against that promise, but question his character by suggesting that Sheffield could potentially be bought.
Sheffield's political strategist Ted Delisi said it's a flawed political move.
"He's incredibly desperate and willing to say anything, and that's a very precarious position for a candidate to be," Delisi said.
Murphey's ad states, "Sheffield pockets big donations from Austin and fights to deregulate energy companies." The ad goes on to say, "Our utility bills are skyrocketing, but Sheffield is fighting for the energy companies."
The TRA lobbied for deregulation, Murphey said, for several years before that and achieved it while Sheffield was president of the organization.
Murphey's campaign provided two articles from the Dec. 6, 2002, edition of the Houston Business Journal in which Sheffield is quoted in his official capacity as president of the Texas Restaurant Association complimenting the cost savings projected for his own business and his fellow members of the TRA.
The television ad also charges Sheffield with aligning himself with the views of notable school voucher proponent James Leininger, who gave $27,000 to Sheffield's campaign.
Murphey's pledge of a positive campaign message are well-documented, as is his charge that Sheffield is a proponent of school vouchers and energy deregulation.
Murphey said as much in the public forums Sept. 25 at the Harker Heights Homebuilders facility, at an editorial board interview at the Killeen Daily Herald July 30, and at a forum at the Central Texas Council of Governments building Sept. 20.
Sheffield was present during the two forums, and quibbled with Murphey's assertions at that time.
Murphey maintains he's not running a negative ad campaign. He said it's simply his most effective way to demonstrate the differences between himself and Sheffield. Sheffield doesn't seem to stand for anything, Murphey said, other than being Republican.
Sheffield called a press conference Wednesday at his campaign headquarters when he saw Murphey's ad that morning.
"People that know me, know I'm a man of my word, someone you can trust. Sam broke his promise to Bell County today by saying that he was going to run a positive campaign," Sheffield said at the press conference. "Obviously, he decided not to probably because he's supported very much so by the Blue Texas group out of Austin (a Democratic activist group which has given money to Murphey). They probably forced him to run these ads."
Delisi agreed with the decision to call the press conference, saying that the voters need to be made aware of it.
"The aggressor in this case is Sam Murphey," Delisi said. "He chose to attack Ralph first and chose to attack him in a negative way. I think this is a desperate ploy to claw his way back to competitiveness, and it will not work."
Murphey said Sheffield lacks mental toughness.
"Despite what he might say, his actions speak louder than his words," Murphey said. "He ought to stand up for himself, be a man, and announce that 'yes, this is my position,' not rely on someone else to point it out."
A recent mail piece from Murphey sent out to District 55 residents has a picture of Sheffield and a clip from an Aug. 10 article in the Killeen Daily Herald that states: "There's a possibility with inflation the way it is, maybe you look at indexing the gas tax." Then further down it refers to Sheffield's comments in the same article, "I'm not for any kind of tax increase."
Then at the bottom of the mail piece it says "Ralph Sheffield is in favor of indexing the gas tax. That means higher gas prices."
The statements are contradictory and clearly designed to mislead voters, Delisi said, just like the television ads, which make conclusions through supposition.
"There is no connection between what they're saying," Delisi said. "But to connect the dots in the way he is doing ? I halfway expect Sam to say Ralph was the reason for the Cowboys losing, or that he's the third gunman on the grassy knoll behind in the Kennedy assassination. ? It makes no sense. He needed to be called out on it."
Delisi said he's working to properly respond to the message, and that the people of Central Texas will have ample chances to view it through varying forms of media.
Contact Justin Cox at email@example.com or (254) 501-7568.