DALLAS — If Republicans were on their way to victory, Rep. Pete Sessions wouldn't be in a battle for survival in a Texas seat he's held without much trouble for the last 15 years.
But the chair of the House Rules Committee, who was first elected to Congress to represent another district in 1996, faces the same dilemma as many other endangered Republicans in the midterm elections: whether he is more helped or hurt by President Trump, even in a GOP district like Texas' 32nd.
"Quite honestly, we wish the president were on the ballot," Sessions said. "It would turn out so much nicer. So — we are where we are."
Sessions is facing his toughest race in over a decade as he looks to keep a grip on his seat as anti-Trumpism continues to make inroads in the Dallas area. He's facing Colin Allred, a former Obama official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and NFL linebacker, who posted a $2.3 million haul in the last fundraising quarter, and has proven to be his most formidable challenge since 2004, when Sessions defeated former Rep. Martin Frost.
Like many Republicans, Sessions' sales job to voters centers around what Republicans have done rather than the way in which Trump has done it. While the tax law, Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation, and other Trump policies receive 50 percent support or higher, according to a New York Times poll, the president's style grates.
"The sense I get is, 'I like what's happening. I don't like how we got there. Stop the discussion and just go get your work done, and keep delivering for us,'" Sessions said of his constituents in a recent interview. "But that 'keep delivering for us' is where everybody wants us to be, and they know without a House, the Senate, the president, that that would find itself in turmoil. That's why they are completely for us being successful."
Known as "Uncle Pete" to supporters at a meet and greet along White Rock Lake, Sessions is considered a local hero.
"Get. Off. Twitter," said Mary Ann Trapolis, a Sessions supporter who attended the event. "If he would get off of Twitter, that would help him a lot."
"If he would never have touched it, people would think he was doing a great job," said Vincent Gaines, another supporter, responding to Trapolis, who concurred.
"His mouth is his worst enemy — like most of us," Gaines added.
Sessions' district has undergone significant changes over the years, most notably, the influx of young adults into the uptown area of Dallas. In 1990, uptown's population sat at less than 5,000. Today, it has grown to nearly 20,000, which Sessions says is due to economic growth in the region.
But as the population has changed, so have the politics. Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by 2 points in the district while Sessions did not face a Democratic opponent. The opportunity for Democrats has also attracted big money. In addition to Allred's fundraising, the House Democratic campaign arm (DCCC) and the House Majority PAC have pumped nearly $1.5 million and $700,000 to the district, respectively. In their latest ad, the House Majority PAC argues that Sessions "has forgotten about Texas" and has lost touch with his constituents.
Republicans, meanwhile have tried to buoy Sessions despite Allred out-raising him by $1 million in the third quarter. The Congressional Leadership Fund has spent $1.6 million to support him.
Despite the lack of support for Trump in the district, Sessions realizes his importance, particularly with the base of the party, which was animated by the Kavanaugh fight.
Although the president has not appeared in North Texas ahead of election day, plenty of other heavy hitters have. Vice President Mike Pence campaigned for Sessions earlier in the month, while Donald Trump, Jr., the president's eldest son, fundraised for the longtime congressman Thursday night.
With the president not on the ballot for another two years, Sessions believes the Kavanaugh hearings could be the difference. Prior to the fight, Republicans nationally were 15 points back in the enthusiasm gap, according to Sessions, a former chairman of the House Republicans' campaign arm.
"We have lagged behind until the Kavanaugh — until the fights started," said Sessions, who's chaired the House Rules Committee since 2013. "The Kavanaugh stuff has brought everyone alive. Before that period of time, you could say it was a jump ball."
"We were without the fire. ... It hurt," he added
For national Republicans, the most potent line of attack remains House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, with groups noting that Allred's first vote will likely be to make her speaker if Democrats re-take the House.
"Pelosi, Pelosi, Pelosi," said one GOP strategist involved in House races. "It's still Texas. We don't need anything else."