AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Republican voters made their preferences clear: The tea party is in and incumbents are out.
In runoffs across the state Tuesday, incumbents found themselves besieged by tea party members calling themselves “the true conservatives.” Veteran lawmakers suddenly found their experience in public office where they may have compromised in the past an indelible mark on their record.
Gov. Rick Perry tried to boost many of his allies, but it didn’t help in most cases. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst lost his race for the GOP Senate nomination to Ted Cruz, and incumbent Supreme Court Justice David Medina lost his bid for re-election. State Reps. Chuck Hopson, Sid Miller and Jim Landtroop welcomed Perry’s help, but all lost to challengers.
National tea party leaders praised what they said was proof that their brand of conservatism was alive and well in Texas and across the country.
“The false narrative continues to be written that the tea party is dead, and 2012 will not be like 2010. However, every month we see a strong example to the contrary,” said Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer. “Tonight we sent a message that should shake Obama’s Chicago headquarters: Texas not only is going to be staying a red state, but the tea party is alive and ready to own 2012.”
Michael Quinn Sullivan, leader of the conservative activist group Empower Texans, agreed that Texas voters were pushing out Republican moderates, like state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, who lost to tea party leader Donna Campbell. He said lawmakers allied with Texas House Speaker Joe Straus continued to lose key races.
“It’s a very bad night for Joe Straus, losing two big committee chairs (Miller and Hopson),” he said, adding that five Straus chairs have now lost in the GOP primary. “The state Senate has become a lot more conservative after this cycle, and especially with this runoff.”
Just a year ago, Republican politicians were giddy at the thought of Perry running for president and Dewhurst moving on to the Senate, freeing up the state’s top two posts for the first time in a decade. But now that they have lost, the second-string’s patience is wearing thin.
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said Tuesday night that he will run for lieutenant governor in 2014, whether Dewhurst seeks re-election or not. Attorney General Greg Abbott has a $14 million campaign fund saved up and has signaled he’s ready to make a bid for governor, though Perry is holding out the option of running again. There is some question whether Abbott will continue to wait his turn if Perry seeks an unprecedented fourth term.
In 2013, a key question will be whether Perry, Dewhurst and Straus will see their power diminished by these primary results going into the next legislative session. Perry has relied on his endorsements to keep Republican lawmakers in line with his agenda, but his support no longer appears worth as much. Dewhurst — already considered a weak leader in the state Senate — will have trouble enforcing discipline, and Straus will have to compromise with tea party members if he wants to win re-election as House Speaker.
There is little doubt that Republicans took a dramatic step to the right in choosing their nominees for the November elections. The Texas Legislature will see a large percentage of freshmen lawmakers come January, and the Republicans will not be ready to compromise, even though they are unlikely to maintain the supermajority they enjoy now.
Democrats, meanwhile, also chose fresh faces. Marc Veasey and Filemon Vela won nominations for new seats in Dallas-Fort Worth and South Texas, races that should be guaranteed Democratic victories. Pete Gallego nudged out former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez for the chance to run against GOP incumbent Quico Canseco in a redrawn 23rd District that gives the Democrat a fighting chance.
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