Yesterday was arguably the first big Election Day of the 2014 cycle, with Texas holding Republican and Democratic primaries statewide. And with Gov. Rick Perry (R) stepping down after 13 years as the state’s chief executive, voters saw competitive contests up and down the ballot, creating frenzied races Texans hadn’t seen in a while.
As the dust settles, it appears most of the establishment candidates prevailed. This New York Times piece helped summarize the conventional wisdom about the larger implications.
Establishment Republican leaders on Tuesday defeated challenges from the right in a statewide primary election as conservatives inspired by Senator Ted Cruz largely failed to topple mainstream incumbents, and a race for lieutenant governor headed for a runoff.
Similarly, the headline from The Hill reads, “Top Texas Tea Party challengers flame out.”
With candidates like Sen. John Cornyn (R), Rep. Pete Sessions (R), and gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott (R) easily dispatching rivals from the fringe, the notion that the GOP establishment reasserted itself certainly makes sense.
But it’s best not to push these assumptions too far. Ed Kilgore had an item on Monday – the day before the primary – about the likely results, which rings true two days later: “If no Tea Party insurgents … score a major victory, you will hear some observers declare the movement dead or dying, right there in Ted Cruz’s backyard. Others (myself included) will note that thanks to Cruz and following Rick Perry’s earlier lead, the ‘Republican Establishment’ in Texas has largely coopted the Tea Party movement with its own savage rhetoric and policies.”
If the top-line takeaway is that the GOP Establishment won and the Tea Party faltered, some might get the impression that more moderate conservatives prevailed over voices of extremism. That impression would be mistaken. Federal lawmakers like Cornyn and Sessions became some of the most conservative members of Congress in recent years as Republican politics in Texas became more radicalized.
In other words, yesterday pitted very conservative Republicans against hyper-conservative Republicans. That the former scored victories isn’t exactly a win for the American mainstream.
Looking ahead, Abbott, Texas’ attorney general, will face state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) in a high-profile match-up that’s likely to be a very expensive contest.
Also keep an eye on Rep. Ralph Hall (R), a long-time incumbent who was pushed yesterday into a May 27 runoff primary.
And perhaps most interesting of all will be the Republican runoff in the race for lieutenant governor.
Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) has been forced into a primary runoff and trails his challenger, sports broadcaster Dan Patrick (R).Patrick leads Dewhurst by 43 percent to 28 percent with 24 percent of precincts reporting. The Associated Press has called that the race will head to a runoff.
In 2012, Dewhurst was the early frontrunner in the open U.S. Senate race, before he got crushed by Ted Cruz. As yesterday’s primary results helped make clear, his career hasn’t recovered well.