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Shared Name May Be Hurdle to Keeping Post

The Texas House has four Kings, three members named Davis, three Turners and two each named Gonzalez, Rodriguez and Thompson. But it's the two who share the name Sheffield who could face some voter confusion.


State Rep. Ralph Sheffield is doubling his campaign budget for 2014, planning to spend twice as much as he did in 2012 because of another candidate on the ballot.

Sheffield, R-Temple, is facing a primary challenge in House District 55 from Molly White of Belton.

But that’s not why Sheffield is planning to double the number of mail pieces he sends to voters, or why he is adding television and radio ads to a campaign that went without them in 2012.

To figure that out, you must look to the north, to the line between his House district and the next one over.

There, in House District 59, Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville, faces a serious challenge in the person of Danny Pelton, recruited by allies of former Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville. Miller lost his House seat in 2012 to Sheffield. This is a grudge match, once removed.

The two Sheffields are not related, but they share the Waco-Temple-Killeen media market. Attacks on the one can easily become attacks on the other.

Ralph Sheffield, who runs a restaurant in Temple, learned this lesson in 2012. He won his primary with plenty of votes to spare, but not without a scare in the last days of that campaign.

“We have the same dadgum media market,” he said. His campaign tried to get his name and a positive impression established early and felt everything was going well. “Then Sid Miller started attacking Sheffield. Just Sheffield. I had a lady come up to me at church to tell me she didn’t believe all those things people were saying about me.”

In his admittedly nonscientific estimation, the blurred lines of attack cost him eight percentage points during the last days of that race.

The confusion didn’t stop with the election. Ralph Sheffield did a telephone interview with a Waco TV station during this year’s legislative session. But he said the station ran a picture of J.D. Sheffield over his voice.

Miller will be on the ballot next year, but as a candidate for agriculture commissioner. Now it is Pelton challenging J.D. Sheffield, using Miller’s longtime consultant, Todd Smith. It promises to be a tough race for J.D. Sheffield, a one-term incumbent. Pelton is getting endorsements from other Republican House members. While it is common for legislators to endorse opponents of colleagues from the other party, intraparty warfare like this is unusual — the sort of fratricide that draws attention to a race.

Smith, Pelton’s consultant, is aware of Ralph Sheffield’s concern but said, more or less gently, that it’s not his problem.

“I don’t think we have the luxury of doing anything different than what we have planned,” Smith said. “We are certainly not going to pull any punches.”

Ralph Sheffield is planning to spend more money this time, to make sure that nothing said about J.D. Sheffield accrues to the benefit of White.

“It’s not her that we’re worried about — it’s J.D.,” he said.

Nothing in Ralph Sheffield’s recent electoral history suggests real trouble. He won that 2012 primary against John Alaniz and was not opposed in the general election that November. That said, White claims the support of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, an Austin-based political organization that has had some success challenging incumbent Republicans in primary races.

If White is a more effective candidate than Alaniz, that eight-point Sheffield problem could be decisive. Alaniz, a former president of the Central Texas Tea Party, has endorsed her.

Or maybe it’s just a good talking point for an incumbent legislator who is in the middle of the money-raising part of the campaign. “I have to make my media buys early and do a good job polishing my record,” Ralph Sheffield said. “It might help J.D. That’s okay. I can work with J.D. But it’s not going to be a simple campaign.”

The Pelton campaign couldn’t really do anything about it, even if it were inclined to help. It hopes to take down a guy named Sheffield, and if that raises a stink that drifts across the line between Bell and Coryell counties, that’s just too bad.

“The only suggestion I have,” Smith said, “is for Ralph Sheffield to get his name changed.”

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/12/09/rep-rep-rep/.

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