Retired Army nurse Shirley McKellar sees signs her third campaign to unseat the congressman she calls "the original Donald Trump" will be the charm once she gets past a Democratic opponent she describes as politically naive.
"More people are coming out this time than ever before," she said. "I've spent so much time going to church meetings, calling town halls, calling forums. ... Obviously, grassroots is the key."
McKellar is seeking the Democratic nomination as representative for the 1st Congressional District, a place held by U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler.
The veteran is recruiting fellow service members to staff phone banks and enlisting students at the University of Texas at Tyler, where she's working on her master's degree in political science, to knock on doors. She added that the Young Democrats have re-established themselves on the Tyler campus.
McKellar touts her wide-ranging resume as equipping her for the U.S. House of Representatives. It includes her doctorate in nursing, her ongoing studies, 18 years of military service including a tour in Iraq that drew an injury, two decades owning an early childhood educational center and about 10 years owning a clothing outlet in the former Gibson's store on U.S. 69.
"Everything we do in Washington, D.C., in Congress, I have done in my career," she said, noting her years in education, health care and the military, her lifelong pursuit of higher education degrees and years as a small business owner. "I'm the only candidate that's running for U.S. Congress that has done it and has all that experience in what Louie Gohmert should be doing."
McKellar faces fellow Democrat Brent Beal, an associate professor of management and marketing at UT Tyler, in the March 6 primary. The winner this spring will face either Gohmert, Roshin Rowjee of Lufkin or Anthony Culler, a Metroplex resident who plans to move into the district, in the November general election.
She's got her sights trained, though, on fellow veteran Gohmert.
"He's an embarrassment to us," McKellar said of the seven-term incumbent. "He's an embarrassment to East Texas. He does not really care about his constituents. What is he afraid of? He uses the Gabby Giffords (shooting) issue, but everyone around the nation is holding town halls. If you're afraid to hold that seat, then go to Mount Pleasant. Go wherever you can, but if you're going to hold that seat, your job is to go out and meet your constituents."
Gohmert, who went to high school in Mount Pleasant, has cited the shooting of Giffords, a former U.S. representative, at a constituent event as a reason in declining to appear at town hall Q&A meetings with his constituents.
He also has ignored McKellar's requests during each campaign to debate her in a public setting.
Gohmert also wins his re-elections by commanding margins every two years, begging the question of why McKellar thinks this cycle will be different.
She suspects the president will help her.
"Louie Gohmert is the original Donald Trump," she said. "He was doing Donald Trump before Donald Trump showed up."
She said she and a group have visited Gohmert's Tyler office.
"We haven't gotten in there," she said. "I said to him, I come from the African-American community. I have never seen you in the African-American community. He shows up at the (Historically Black) Texas College parade, and we saw him in his car. He never got on the ground."
She also criticized Gohmert for failing to prevent the departures of two major Tyler manufacturers, Carrier and Goodyear.
"He didn't fight to keep those there," she said.
As for Beal, McKellar said she's asked about him at UT Tyler.
"Nobody knew who he is," she said. "He's never been active in the community as a Democrat. ... I don't think Brent Beal is ready. He's not ready, because he does not know East Texas."
She also takes the professor to task for his use of the profanity that goes by the initials BS during public speaking events.
"People laugh," she said. "And it's not funny, because this is a serious business."
McKellar's small business roots predate her. Her father's family are the Erwins, namesake of a Tyler artery, with five generations supplying blossoms for the annual Tyler Rose Festival.
From now through March 6, and she hopes beyond, McKellar plans for grassroots campaigning to cover the space between Gohmert and herself.
The incumbent reported $92,132 cash on hand after spending $388,300 during the past year, according to his Jan. 31 finance report. McKellar's report says she spent $7,815 of $8,200 raised in 2017, and she said she put $10,000 of her own money into the effort.
"My boots are on the ground every single day," she said. "We're going out into those places in the district where people are saying, 'We're not important.' I have people in every county in the (13-county) district. ... The big issue I really push is, your voice is really strong in East Texas. And you need to use it."