A group of Tarrant Co. Republicans, including county party chair Tim O’Hare, have urged U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Ennis) to retire in the wake of the online publication of the 17-term congressman in the nude, reported the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Anna Tinsley and others. O’Hare said in a statement that Barton should “make way for a candidate who better embodies our values and will ensure Congressional District 6 remains in Republican hands.”

Barton has not faced a strong challenger for the seat in years, and the precincts located within the district have been reliably Republican for years.

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton

CD6 is comprised of southeastern Tarrant Co., including most of Arlington and Mansfield, and all of Ellis and Navarro Cos. Donald Trump received 56% of the vote head-to-head against Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Greg Abbott prevailed over Wendy Davis, 59%-41%, head-to-head two years earlier. Barton enjoyed a 21K-vote advantage in straight-party voting in each of those elections.

In 2014, Barton defeated Democratic challenger David Cozad by 25 points. Nearly two thirds of all votes cast in that election were straight-party votes, and 61% of those votes went to the Republican Party’s nominees. Even if Cozad had received the support of 71% of full-ballot voters, Barton still would have won re-election.

In 2016, full-ballot voters were split between Trump and Clinton in virtually the same proportion as straight-party voters when measured head-to-head. This suggests that full-ballot voters, on balance, were unfazed with the tawdrier allegations lodged against Trump, including his lewd comments caught on a live mic. Barton fared even better, receiving 60% of full-ballot voters’ support head-to-head against his Democratic opponent.

At least five Democrats had already taken a formal step toward running for the seat before Barton’s photo surfaced on social media. Only one of them has reported raising at least $100K so far for the cycle. Barton has raised more than $420K and had not quite $400K on hand as of September 30. While both of those figures were lower than the typical incumbent, they were nonetheless significantly higher than those of any opponent.

Barton’s bigger concern may be the Republican primary. Since the photo surfaced, two primary challengers have filed against him: Midlothian former Naval fighter pilot and Texas Veterans Commission appointee Jake Ellzey and Fort Worth physician Monte Mitchell. Both have lost elections in recent years. Ellzey finished a distant third in the Republican primary for an open House seat in 2014, and Mitchell lost the race for adjacent CD33 in 2016 (26%) and three races for the Texas House since 1998. Ellzey was already considering the race before the photo’s disclosure.

Three potentially viable primary opponents, Sens. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) and Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) and Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), have stated they are staying put. Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) has filed for re-election, albeit prior to the photo’s disclosure, but he appears to be focused on representing HD96. Tarrant Co. Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright (R) is also mentioned as a potential candidate, but the former Barton staffer is not expected to challenge his ex-boss.

Barton’s campaign is reportedly polling the district’s primary voters to gauge his vulnerability from the right. Rice University’s Mark Jones believes that Barton, while weakened by the photo, is more of a target for a Tea Party challenge because of his “relatively centrist conservative record in Congress.” Jones scored Barton as the fifth least conservative member of the delegation for the 114th Congress.

Barton should be favored to win re-election, but it would be his toughest race in decades if he chooses to run again.

©2017 Texas Election Source LLC