Sen. Cornyn Tries to Fend off Stockman in Texas Primary

Monday, 03 Mar 2014 07:41 PM

By John Gizzi

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With Texans going to the polls on Tuesday to select nominees for governor and U.S. senator, attention is increasingly focused on whether two-term Republican Sen. John Cornyn will exceed the 50 percent mark needed to avoid a runoff for the GOP nomination later this year.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis, meanwhile, hopes to make a show of strength by keeping her primary opponent from drawing a significant vote total.

Many Republicans are still wondering why tea party favorite Rep. Steve Stockman gave up a safe Republican district in the Houston area to file at the last minute against Cornyn, the GOP Senate minority whip.

Cornyn has raised more than $13 million, while Stockman is barely in the five figures in terms of campaign cash, although, as his supporters remind skeptics, he was outraised by a margin of more than 5-1 in his 2012 nomination battle and still won handily.

Noting that the insurgent candidate went unnoticed in Congress and in the Lone Star State while on congressional business overseas, The Washington Post recently wondered mockingly: "Where is Steve?"

"Yes, I've heard that, and I hear it because the left-wing media doesn't understand modern campaigning," Stockman told Newsmax last week. "If I spoke to five audiences of 1,000 every day for a month, I would still reach only a fraction of likely primary voters."

Stockman noted the electronic mailings his campaign have distributed over the Internet have been targeted to reach likely voters. He also pointed out that "conservative talk radio hosts and most of their callers are furious" with Cornyn.

"His voting to lift the debt ceiling and to fund Obamacare in the continuing resolution has really upset conservatives," Stockman said. "They're really mad at the way he criticized [Texas Sen.] Ted [Cruz] for standing firm on both of these votes."

But the Cornyn camp is voicing confidence that their man will be renominated with the 50 percent of the vote plus one needed to avoid a runoff. Further complicating the Stockman challenge is the presence in the race of a fellow tea party candidate, Dwayne Stovall.

In the Texas Democratic primary for governor, Fort Worth-area state Sen. Wendy Davis, who gained national attention for her filibuster against pro-life legislation favored by retiring Republican Gov. Rick Perry, has raised more than $11 million.

After revelations that she had exaggerated and misstated parts of her resume, Davis' fundraising reportedly stepped up even more.

Assured of the Democratic nomination against huge underdog Reynaldo "Ray" Madrigal, Davis trails certain GOP nominee and State Attorney General Greg Abbott by a margin of 47 percent to 36 percent, according to a just-completed University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll of likely voters.

But there is a catch in the primary.

"If Madrigal exceeds 20 percent, then Davis is much weaker than expected," Wayne Thorburn, former executive director of the Texas GOP and a political historian, told Newsmax.

"For historical reference, in 1994, incumbent Democratic Gov. Ann Richards was opposed by Gary Espinosa, an unknown Baptist from East Texas. Espinosa won 22.2 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary. Richards then lost to George W. Bush in the general election."

There are other contests in Texas on Tuesday: primaries for all statewide offices and every seat in the state House, as well as nominations in all 36 U.S. House districts in the state.

By far the most intriguing House contest is in the 32nd District, where House Rules Chairman and nine-term Rep. Pete Sessions is being challenged in the GOP primary by management consultant Katrina Pierson, a tea party activist endorsed by Sarah Palin.

In the heavily Republican 36th District (greater Houston) vacated by Stockman, 15 Republicans are vying for the nomination.

Watch the turnout, political prognosticators say.

Thorburn said, "Expect the total turnout in the Republican primary to be roughly three times the turnout in the Democratic primary statewide."

"If the turnout is less than a 3-to-1 margin, it means the Democratic organization and the party's interests are stronger than anticipated. If it is greater than a 3-to-1 margin, it means that indeed the 'Battleground Texas' effort is a failure for Democrats."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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