Texas Tea Party Still Wields Clout

by John Fund

It wasn’t a good night for the political class in Texas’s primary runoffs last night.

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, the establishment Republican who lost to Ted Cruz in the Senate primary in 2012, saw his political career evaporate. Dewhurst won 42 percent of the vote against Cruz. But in the March primary he won only 29 percent versus tea-party-backed Senator Dan Patrick. That left Dewhurst and Patrick scrambling for the remaining 30 percent of the vote in the runoff. Despite a vicious character-assassination campaign against Patrick financed by $5 million of his own money, Dewhurst bombed. He won only 35 percent of the primary vote, a pathetic showing for an incumbent. Other tea-party-backed candidates won the runoffs for attorney general and agriculture commissioner.

Down ballot, the Tea Party had a good night in most races. It lost one primary runoff in the Houston area for the seat vacated by eccentric congressman Steve Stockman. But John Ratcliffe, a former U.S. attorney backed by the Club for Growth, defeated 91-year-old incumbent Representative Ralph Hall, who was seeking an 18th term. 

Should Republicans retain the Texas governorship with Attorney General Greg Abbott this November, the legislature that he will face will be significantly more conservative. A group called Empower Texas defeated establishment Republicans in two primary runoffs for state senate seats yesterday, and won a significant number of the House runoffs. Bill Hammond, a leading lobbyist for Texas business interests, says he’s worried that the legislature may be so conservative that they will take a meat axe to business subsidies and development aid. 

The Texas Model for economic growth — low taxes, reasonable regulation, and a business-friendly climate has made the state prosperous. It also appears to be good politics, because the candidates who most vigorously promoted that model won most of the races yesterday.