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Originally published March 4, 2014 at 10:00 PM | Page modified March 4, 2014 at 11:27 PM

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Texas GOP incumbents fend off tea-party challengers

It was one of the most crowded, expensive and fiercely fought statewide Republican primaries in recent history.


The New York Times

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McALLEN, Texas — Establishment Republican leaders on Tuesday defeated challenges from the right in a statewide primary election as conservatives inspired by Sen. Ted Cruz largely failed to topple mainstream incumbents.

Two Republican leaders in Congress — Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Pete Sessions — and a number of other Republicans in the House overcame opponents backed by tea-party activists.

There were no surprises in the race for governor as the Republican and Democratic front-runners — Greg Abbott, the state attorney general, and State Sen. Wendy Davis — won their respective primaries and will face each other in the general election in November. Davis is trying to become the first Democratic governor of Texas in two decades.

It was one of the most crowded, expensive and fiercely fought statewide Republican primaries in recent history. The 12 Republicans running for lieutenant governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner spent a total of roughly $35 million from January 2013 to late last month.

The crowded races were prompted by the announcement last year by Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, that he was not running for re-election. His decision set off a round of political musical chairs at the top levels of state government as dozens of Republican leaders and mavericks jostled for higher office, inspired in part by Cruz, a tea-party-backed lawyer who had never held public office before defeating Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in 2012.

On Tuesday, Dewhurst faced three prominent conservatives in his re-election bid and the possibility of a runoff in May.

The success of several Republican incumbents Tuesday suggested to some that the influence of the tea party here had waned or possibly that the incumbents had managed to appease tea-party conservatives by steering further to the right.

Another Texas Republican in the fight of his political life was a longtime congressman, Ralph Hall. Hall was expected by some to face John Ratcliffe, a former chief federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Texas, in a May runoff. Hall has been in Congress since 1981 and, at 90, is the oldest person to serve in the House of Representatives.

Cornyn faced seven challengers, a sign of the frustration among some tea-party activists and conservative groups with him for failing to back Cruz in his efforts to shut down the government over President Obama’s health-care law and to block a vote to raise the federal debt ceiling. His challenger, Rep. Steve Stockman, failed to build widespread momentum.

George P. Bush — the nephew of the former president, who served as governor here from 1995 to 2000 — campaigned for land commissioner, a relatively low-profile position that some Republicans, including Dewhurst, have used as a steppingstone for higher office. Bush’s easy victory on Tuesday illustrated the lasting influence of the family political brand and provided Hispanic conservatives with their most high-profile spokesman in the state.

Bush, son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and whose mother is Mexican American, is the co-founder of Hispanic Republicans of Texas, a political-action committee.

Political analysts say he could play a major role in helping Republicans woo Hispanics in Texas, a population that has traditionally voted Democratic and that has become crucial as Republicans try to maintain their dominance in Texas and Democrats try to break Republican control.

For Democrats, the primary was not nearly as competitive, although several races were noteworthy. The musician and humorist Kinky Friedman, who ran for governor in 2006, sought the Democratic nomination for agriculture commissioner. Appearing on the ballot as Richard “Kinky” Friedman, he advocated the legalization of marijuana. He will face a runoff against farmer John Hogan.

Illinois holds the nation’s next primary March 18, followed by a flood of state primaries in May and June.



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