Internet activists may have tried hard to make House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, pay for sponsoring legislation they claimed would stifle free speech and innovation on the Internet, but it doesn't appear their efforts to defeat the long-time incumbent have paid off.
Smith has two GOP challengers in Tuesday’s primary election in Texas. So far, however, neither has come anywhere close to matching Smith’s fundraising, and Smith is favored to prevail.
“He’s in very good shape. It’s just a question of does he win with 60 percent or 70 percent,” Mark Jones, chairman of the political-science department at Rice University in Houston, told National Journal on Tuesday.
At the most, Smith’s challengers could force him into a runoff if he fails to get more than 50 percent of the primary vote, Jones said. Either way, a win in the primary will likely lead to victory in November in the solidly GOP district, he said.
As of early May, Smith raised $1.3 million for his quest to secure a 14th term, compared with $50,000 for former Sheriff Richard Mack, a Tea Party activist known for his lawsuit challenging Clinton administration gun laws, and $9,000 for software engineer Richard Morgan, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Nonetheless, Smith’s GOP opponents are being assisted by Internet activists upset with his sponsorship of the anti-piracy bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act. The bill was aimed at curbing piracy and counterfeiting on foreign websites by forcing online ad firms and payment processors to stop doing business with them and requiring Internet service to redirect users away from the sites. Critics argued that the legislation would harm the Internet and stifle online free speech. SOPA, and a similar Senate bill, were shelved in January after encountering unprecedented online protests. Both of Smith’s GOP opponents have come out against SOPA.
Internet activists then set their sights on Smith, who was the lead sponsor of the measure in the House. At least one of those groups, Test PAC, which was launched by users of the social news site Reddit, made a small TV ad buy in Smith’s district, sent direct mail to Republican primary voters and put up a billboard in Smith’s district. While Test PAC only raised about $35,000, the group claimed some small success.
“Our first campaign has raised awareness of Internet issues, may unseat a sitting congressman in a supposedly safe district, and has helped to awaken the sleeping giant of online political activism,” Test PAC said in a blog post.
Another group, Fight for the Future, which was active in rallying opposition to SOPA, also has bought a billboard near Smith’s district office warning lawmakers, “Don’t Mess with the Internet.”
Despite such efforts, Jones said GOP voters in Smith’s district, which is based in the northern suburbs of San Antonio and stretches to Austin, are unlikely to be swayed to vote against a popular incumbent over an issue like Internet freedom.
“People who care about Internet freedom are not going to vote in the 21st” District GOP primary, he said.
In an interview with a San Antonio radio station last week, Smith didn’t seem too concerned either about the campaign SOPA critics are waging against him. “I certainly want to protect the Internet and don’t worry about billboards like that,” Smith said. “When people get the information, get the facts, I think they are reassured."
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