The prize for sloppy reporting of yesterday’s first-in-the-nation primary goes to ABC News with its headline “GOP Establishment Safe in Texas Primaries as Tea Party Falters.”
It’s true that renegade Republican representative Steve Stockman lost his kamikaze challenge to U.S. senator John Cornyn, the second-ranking member of the Senate GOP leadership. But last week, a coalition of twelve senior tea-party activists formally disavowed Stockman, saying he didn’t represent their values. Not a single significant tea-party group supported the lame, lazy Stockman challenge. Hardly a tea-party test. It’s also true that Representative Pete Sessions, chairman of the House Rules Committee, defeat Katrina Pierson, a Ted Cruz supporter, in a primary (after outspending her 10 to 1). Chalk that up as a defeat, although both Cornyn and Sessions saw nearly four out of ten Republicans vote against them in favor of weak challengers.
But down the ballot, at the level of state races, Primary Day was another story. “The state-level results show the tea party is alive and well in the state of Texas,” Rice University political-science professor Mark P. Jones, told the Dallas Morning News.
Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who lost to Ted Cruz in the 2012 GOP primary, was forced into a humiliating second-place showing in his reelection race, getting only 28 percent of the vote. He will face off against state senator Dan Patrick, a tea-party favorite, in a May runoff.
State representative Dan Branch, the GOP establishment’s choice for attorney general, also came in second with 33 percent of the vote. He will now go up against Ken Paxton, the Tea Party’s brew of choice, who won 44 percent.
In state legislative races, moderate state-house speaker Joe Straus may have won his primary challenge against a tea-party candidate, but his allies fared poorly. As the Dallas Morning News reported, “the four targeted tea party conservatives [in the state house] flicked away challengers backed by pro-public schools and business groups.” At least eight house incumbents lost their seats, four of them to explicitly tea-party challengers.
In the state senate, tea-party incumbent Donna Campbell from San Antonio easily defeated establishment challengers, with 55 percent of the vote. Tea-party groups celebrated the defeat of moderate GOP senator John Carona to libertarian businessman Don Huffines. Another GOP senate incumbent, Bob Deuell, was forced into a runoff he may well lose. The Tea Party clearly faltered against only one of their three establishment targets, with former Midland mayor Mike Canon winning 48 percent of the vote against incumbent Kel Seliger.
In a few contests it lost, the Texas Tribune concluded, “the Tea Party movement in Texas became a victim of its own success in some instances. In many races, Republican candidates were fighting one another to claim the Tea Party mantle, with the result being activists splitting their support among the campaigns.”
Establishment Republicans such as Bill Hammond, the president of the Texas Association of Business, explained the results as follows: “People who don’t think we should be investing in things like water and roads used that as a hammer against legislators who have the long view and are worried about the people of Texas.”
National reporters may have looked at the top-line Texas results and concluded it was a rebuke of the Tea Party. But locals know better as indicated by the following somewhat mournful headline in this morning’s establishment-oriented Houston Chronicle: “Tea Party Movement Apparently Wasn’t Over After All.”