There's a big battle going on to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, who is retiring after representing the rambling 21st District since 1987.

It stretches from San Antonio to Austin and several more rural counties to the west, and has more candidates running than it has counties.

The coming vacancy has drawn four Democrats in the red-leaning district, and 18 – yes, 18 – Republicans.

At a recent open forum in Creedmoor, south of Austin, 13 of the 18 Republican candidates showed up. Amid a chorus of support voiced for President Donald Trump, one of the 13 particularly stood out.

When the questioning got to Jenifer Sarver, of Austin, her answer went, shall we say, against the grain.

“There’s a nasty little rumor going around that I voted for Hillary Clinton,” Sarver said, according to Austin American-Statesman columnist Ken Herman.

“And it’s true," Sarver added. "It’s not a rumor because I wrote about it and told people about it.”

Applause was not forthcoming.

Sarver's Republican credentials are solid. She was a staff member for former Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and did time in the Department of Commerce under Republican President George W. Bush.

 Sarver said she had supported Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in the crowded 2016 GOP primary.

But after Trump won the nomination,  “when it came down to it, I couldn’t support candidate Trump,” Sarver told the crowd. “As a woman, I couldn’t do it."

While he's the president, and the Republican Party's leader, " I’m proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with him when he’s governing with conservative principles," Sarver said.

“But when he’s uncivil and incivil and treats people with disrespect, I’m going to call that out," Sarver said. "I would call that out of anybody on this stage and with Democrats.”

Sarver lamented that political conversations too often are hostile, mean and demonstrate discrimination.

 “One of the biggest problems we face is the way that we talk to one another,” she said.

“It’s not OK to tear people down and divide people based on their skin color, their nation of origin, their sexual orientation or whatever they may believe for their faith," Sarver said.

She added that she is "a strong Christian," but wouldn't try to impose her beliefs on others.

She acknowledged that call for bipartisan cooperation wasn't exactly in tune with the tenor in the room.

“It’s not a popular primary message to tell you that I want to work with the other side," Sarver said. "But I think it’s necessary."

She warned the Republican Party's base is shrinking.

"I see a party that’s aging and white, and that’s not the future of our country," Sarver said. "We have a tone that is shutting people out. Young people are not interested in joining our party. Women are leaving our party in droves. "

She didn't have to call for silence, Herman reported. But she figured that out.

“I’ve said some things tonight that I know you don’t agree with, because I didn’t get any clapping," Sarver said. "But I’m not a politician. I’m not somebody that’s going to tell you exactly what you want to hear.”

The vote in that room probably wouldn't send her  to Congress. But in a field of 18, Sarver's unwillingness to ignore Trump's coarse behavior certainly distinguished her.

Indeed, the San Antonio Express-News endorsed her on Feb. 14 – Valentine's Day – amid hopes that she'd be in the expected runoff.

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