Don’t let all the Christmas decorations and holiday music fool you.
It’s actually election season.
With the closing of the candidate filing period last Monday, the field is set for the county and state races leading up to the March 6 primary.
That means campaigns for county commissioner, district judge and state representative — many of which have been underway for weeks — will be kicking into high gear.
It was a busy filing period, with contested races for offices up and down the primary ballot.
In the Killeen area, two Democrats, John Driver and Louis Minor, are vying to challenge four-term Precinct 4 Bell County Commissioner John Fisher in November.
Six-term Precinct 2 Commissioner Tim Brown is facing a primary challenge from two candidates — local banker Bobby Whitson and Salado resident Brit Owen.
And four Republican candidates are running to replace retiring Judge Martha J. Trudo as 264th District Court judge.
In the Texas House District 55 race, incumbent Republican Hugh Shine is being challenged by two Republican candidates with no political experience — gun rights advocate C.J. Grisham and a pastor, Brandon Hall.
Locally, the attention is on the race for Texas House District 54, which includes most of Killeen, the Salado area and Lampasas County.
As with District 55, three Republicans are vying for the House seat. Salado resident Brad Buckley and Killeen resident Larry Smith are challenging first-term incumbent Scott Cosper, also of Killeen.
The winner will face Kathy Richerson, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary, in the November general election.
As with District 55, it’s unusual that an incumbent state representative would receive a primary challenge from two candidates. It’s also notable that only one challenger has served in elected office.
That candidate is Buckley, a Killeen veterinarian who previously served on the Killeen Independent School District board of trustees. Like Cosper, Buckley is a Killeen native who has long been involved in civic and business organizations. Buckley is currently a co-chair of the 14 Forward economic development campaign for the greater Fort Hood area, an initiative to spur development along the I-14 corridor.
Not so coincidentally, Cosper pushed for the I-14 designation for U.S. Highway 190 while serving as Killeen mayor and as a member of the Killeen-Temple Metropolitan Planning Organization. Both men see the interstate as a key to the area’s future economic growth.
While Smith, an Army veteran and general contractor, is not a Killeen native, he is familiar with the issues in District 54, having run in the Republican primary in 2016. A staunch conservative, Smith says his campaign is off to a strong start.
In fact, all three Republican candidates identify themselves as conservative, but they differ on their approaches to policy and priorities.
Buckley lists his top issues as property tax reform, overhauling school finance and promoting a strong business environment throughout the state.
In an interview with the Herald earlier this year, Cosper cited property tax reform, border security and keeping Fort Hood strong as his top three priorities.
Smith has also stressed property tax reform as a priority, noting its impact on veterans in the area.
Richerson, the lone Democrat in the race, has taken an outsider’s approach to the campaign.
A retired real estate broker who lives on a ranch south of Killeen, Richerson said she decided to run because she was tired of sitting on the sidelines, waiting for things to change.
She listed as her top priorities reforming the state education system, fighting health care cuts and promoting job education and growth throughout the district.
With four candidates seeking the same seat, it’s apparent that name recognition, incumbency or party affiliation alone will not guarantee a victory in November.
The Republican hopefuls, at least, have recognized this reality. Cosper and Buckley have been busy with public appearances since October, and Cosper has already started sending out campaign mailers to households in the district. Smith has hosted several campaign events since announcing his candidacy in early November.
Do the District 54 challengers have a legitimate chance?
If history is any indication, yes.
In the 2016 primary race, Smith polled 21 percent of the vote and forced a runoff between Cosper and Killeen optometrist Austin Ruiz, the second-place finisher.
Despite being a political newcomer, Ruiz won Killeen and Salado in the runoff election, losing to Cosper by just 40 votes — with Lampasas County providing the winning margin.
In the November election, Cosper faced another political newcomer, Democrat Sandra Blankenship, and won election by 5,100 votes.
However, Cosper prevailed by just 264 votes in Bell County. Again, it was Lampasas County that proved to be the difference-maker, with Cosper winning the vote there by 79 to 20 percent.
Republican District 54 challengers have taken note of that statistic, as both Buckley and Smith have already held campaign events in the Lampasas area.
That doesn’t mean a Democrat has no chance in the race, however.
District 54 is generally red, but there are several blue precincts within it, especially in Killeen.
For all the candidates, getting their message out between now and the primary election will be crucial.
Voters will be getting lots of information, and it will be important to hear what the candidates have to say — and to make their decisions accordingly.
The Herald will be following the District 54 campaign closely, asking questions of the candidates and reporting on their public activities — as well as their campaign finances.
The Herald also will hold a candidate forum for District 54 candidates on Jan. 22 at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.
Early voting begins Feb. 20, which isn’t that far off.
So finish your Christmas shopping, get those gifts wrapped and have a wonderful holiday with family and friends.
Then get ready to roll up your sleeves and get into political campaign mode.
After this election is over, we’ll still have runoff elections to look forward to — followed by city council and school board elections in May.
And let’s not forget about the Killeen school bond issue, which likely will go to the voters in May.
Yes, election season is upon us — and it’s going to be around a while.