Tea Party Makes Strong Showing in Texas Primaries

Thursday, 06 Mar 2014 03:00 PM

By John Gizzi

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Most of the national press pointed to the landslide primary victories of Texas Republicans Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Pete Sessions over tea party-favored challengers as evidence that the grassroots movement has run out of steam as a force in the GOP.

But a closer look at the outcome of the Tuesday primaries shows quite the opposite — the tea party is a force to be reckoned with in the Lone Star State.

"The tea party dominated major GOP primary statewide races," veteran election analyst Jay O'Callaghan told Newsmax. "Especially the lieutenant governor race."

In what was perhaps the most unexpected result of the night, two-term Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a business community favorite, trailed conservative state Sen. Dan Patrick by a margin of 41 percent to 28 percent. The two will now face each other in a runoff on May 27.

Patrick, a conservative radio and TV commentator from Houston, took a hardline stance on illegal immigration and wooed the tea party, whose statewide branches were pivotal to Dewhurst's defeat at the hands of Ted Cruz in the U.S. Senate primary two years ago.

In similar results, state Sen. Ken Paxton of McKinney, the tea party favorite for nomination as attorney general, led "establishment" favorite and Dallas-area state Rep. Dan Branch by a margin of 44 percent to 33 percent. Like fellow tea party insurgent Patrick, Paxton is the favorite in the May runoff.

Races for nomination to the state Senate told a similar tale.

Four incumbents favored by the tea party were targeted by business-backed challengers and all won handily.

One notable case was state Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, a tea party favorite who ousted moderate GOP state Sen. Jeff Wentworth two years ago. On Tuesday, Campbell rolled up more than half the vote against two primary challengers.

In Republican primary races for the state House, tea party-backed challengers took on a dozen incumbents. Two of the office-holders went down: state Reps. Ralph Sheffield of Temple and Diane Patrick of Arlington. Three more appeared to hold on but were facing recounts.

While Cornyn's 59 percent of the vote over several opponents, including Rep. Steve Stockman, and House Rules Committee Chairman Sessions' 64 percent against tea partier Katrina Pierson were impressive, the opponents to both lawmakers were dramatically under-funded and faced controversy within their own parties.

Stockman, for example, was never fully embraced by much of the Texas tea party movement or national conservative groups such as the Club for Growth. Some irate tea partiers pointed out that when he filed on the last possible day, another favorite of theirs, businessman Dwayne Stovall, was already in the race.

While Pierson had the backing of Sarah Palin and some tea party groups, she also had difficulty raising money as Sessions outspent her by a margin of 10-to-1.

In the race for the nomination to succeed Stockman in the 36th District (Greater Houston), two tea party-backed contenders emerged atop the 12-candidate race and made it into the runoff: former Woodville Mayor Brian Babin and banker Ben Streusand.

The lone U.S. House primary in which an incumbent was affected was in the 4th Congressional District, where Rep. Ralph Hall was forced into a runoff with former U.S. Attorney John Ratcliffe.

The oldest person ever to serve in the U.S. House at age 90, Hall drew 46 percent of the vote to 28 percent for Ratcliffe, who outspent the incumbent. Both were strong conservatives and disagreed on virtually nothing. By all accounts the issue was Hall's age, and while never mentioning it directly, Ratcliffe's TV spots made repeated references to the congressman's long years of service and suggested it was time to elect someone new.

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

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