The Magazine

Mr. Farenthold Goes to Washington

The unlikeliest freshman.

Jan 3, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 16 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Farenthold was also aided by the fact that Ortiz exhibited some of the worst traits of an incumbent. During the health care debate, Ortiz literally phoned it in with a tele-town hall meeting rather than engaging with his constituents in person. And although he had faced ethics questions before, during the campaign the congressman was under a new investigation by the House Ethics Committee for his per diem expenditures during overseas taxpayer-funded trips.

In short, a number of issues were working against Ortiz, and his “duckie pajamas” attack ad couldn’t save him. Farenthold even thinks the ad backfired. “I started going into places getting recognized a whole lot more,” he told me.

Whether or not all the attention was good publicity for Farenthold, it’s true that he was strapped for cash​—​outspent more than 2 to 1​—​and trailed Ortiz in name identification. Perhaps the ad, while embarrassing to Faren­thold, was just too mean to be effective. “They [included] a picture of me with confetti in my hair from a birthday party and a picture of me holding a glass of wine back before I quit drinking,” he said, explaining that the duckie pajamas photo was taken at “a pajama party themed birthday party with the proceeds going to charity. . . . Somebody snapped a picture of me with one of the waitresses.”

Farenthold is already a top target for Democrats in 2012, but taking him out won’t be easy. Texas will gain four House seats in reapportionment, and Farenthold’s district may be redrawn to include more Republican voters. And the district, while favorable to local Democrats in the past, is fairly conservative. Obama only won it with 53 percent of the vote in 2008, and George W. Bush won it with 55 percent in 2004.

Farenthold himself could emerge as a stronger candidate with two years of congressional experience under his belt. He’s already thoughtful and well-spoken when discussing the issues. On the hot-button issue of immigration, for example, he carefully walks the line of opposing amnesty without sounding like he’s anti-immigrant. “The bulk of the people who come to this country either legally or illegally are coming here to live the American dream​—​to build a better life for themselves and not be a mooch on our welfare system,” said Farenthold. “We need to create a system that recognizes the need for immigrants and create a system where if you want to work hard and build a better life for yourself it’s a whole lot easier to do.”

“But we can’t have amnesty,” he continued, “because basically that means you can never be able to seal the borders. You can do [amnesty] once, but after you’ve done it another time, nobody’s going to take you seriously when you say you’re going to get operational control of the borders.”

While Farenthold may be one of the unlikeliest congressmen to emerge from the 2010 election, Democrats would be mistaken to underestimate him the next time around because of one silly picture. Farenthold’s campaign was no joke. And neither is he.

John McCormack is online editor of The Weekly Standard.

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