Anti-incumbent fever might be striking the House once again in 2012.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, lost his re-election primary Tuesday night to former El Paso City Council member Beto O’Rourke, the Associated Press projected. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, O’Rourke took 51 percent of the vote to Reyes’ 44 percent.
Reyes is serving his eighth term in the House.
A former border-patrol sector chief who is viewed as a moderate, Reyes was endorsed in his re-election bid by both President Obama and former president Bill Clinton, who recorded a video endorsement and traveled to El Paso to campaign with Reyes in April. Reyes is the second-most senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, where he chairs the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee.
In an anti-incumbent campaign, O’Rourke accused Reyes of ties to corruption in Congress. ”He’s absolutely tied to corruption,” O’Rourke told The Texas Tribune this month. “I haven’t said he is corrupt himself, but I think he is very tied to it, and I think he is part of the problem.”
Reyes was included in a Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington report on politicians who have paid family members with campaign funds. That became the subject of attack ads aired against Reyes by the anti-incumbent super PAC Campaign for Primary Accountability, the largest donors to which are Houston construction magnate Leo Linbeck III and TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, recently linked to a plan to resurface Jeremiah Wright-centered attacks against Obama. (Ricketts rejected the plan.)
A business interest of O’Rourke’s father-in-law donated $18,750 to the group last year, USA Today reported in February.
In March, the group opposed Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt, who lost her Ohio re-election primary in an upset delivered by U.S. Army combat surgeon Brad Wenstrup.
O’Rourke campaigned on a platform to “end corruption” and called for congressional term limits.
O’Rourke has criticized U.S. drug laws and has previously called for Congress to debate legalizing marijuana as a countermeasure to the Mexican drug war. O’Rourke co-authored a book on U.S. drug laws in 2011 entitled “Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico.”
Marijuana legalization is not a significant part of his campaign – O’Rourke’s website does not list it in the “issues” section – but O’Rourke told The Huffington Post in April that he is “not backing off my position. I have the courage of my conviction. It is clear to me that what we’re doing is a failure.”
While it drew attacks from Reyes, support for marijuana legalization isn’t as uncommon in Congress as one might think. A marijuana-legalization bill introduced by Reps. Ron Paul and Barney Frank drew 20 co-sponsors, including Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., whose district includes a large stretch of U.S.-Mexico border. The idea was also floated in 2009 by California Rep. Loretta, a Democrat, in light of Mexican drug violence.
O’Rourke will go on to face Republican small-business owner Barbara Carrasco in the district’s general election in November.