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Tea Party wins big in Texas runoff elections

Tea Party wins big in Texas runoff elections

We interrupt the standard “GOP Establishment crushes the Tea Party” narrative of the 2014 primaries to bring you this bulletin from Texas, courtesy of Fox News:

Tea Party-backed candidate state Sen. Dan Patrick defeated three-term incumbent David Dewhurst for the Republican nomination for Texas lieutenant governor Tuesday after a nasty race that evolved into personal attacks.

Patrick, a fiery radio talk show host who founded the Tea Party caucus in the Texas state legislature, ousted Dewhurst after a campaign full of attack ads and mudslinging over which candidate was more conservative.

Perhaps one day we’ll have a relatively calm, statesmanlike contest between an established candidate and a Tea Party insurgent.  It would also be interesting if a few more of these races were run with something approaching financial parity.  It’s significant when a feisty upstart overcomes a five-to-one funding disadvantage to unseat an incumbent, but no so much when the candidate with the huge war chest stomps on the outsider, which is the more common outcome.  A lot of this year’s “faltering Tea Party defeated by Republican Establishment” headlines really should have read “candidate with more money wins primary election.”  Which is not necessarily a criticism of the candidate with more money – that’s how politics works, and insurgent candidates must be realistic about their chances.  It’s also not foolish of primary voters to feel that the candidate with more money and endorsement muscle has a better chance in the general election, although that’s not always how it works out.

The Texas Lt. Governor’s race was exceptionally brutal:

The race hit a flashpoint in recent weeks when Patrick’s private medical records were released to reporters. The records revealed Patrick had been treated for depression in the 1980s.

The medical history on Patrick, drawn from a criminal and civil court case, was released by Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who finished fourth in the primary but later endorsed Dewhurst.

The records chronicle psychiatric hospital stays in 1982 and 1986 in which Patrick “needed sitters around the clock for being severely depressed.” Patterson says the information was “not leaked, but in the public domain for 25 years.”

Patterson claimed to not be working for the Dewhurst campaign, and Dewhurst’s campaign asked him to stop the document dump. Patrick accused Dewhurst of lying about using Patterson as a surrogate, and then attempting to cover it up.

Releasing someone’s private medical records in an underhanded effort to sabotage his campaign is repulsive, producing a backlash that contributed to Patrick’s commanding 65-35 victory over Dewhurst – a bigger win than most polls were predicting in the final days of the race, and a stunning finish after his long-shot underdog status at the beginning of the campaign.  Isn’t dumping those records also, you know, illegal?  Many of us simple folk out here in flyover country were under the impression that private medical records are private, at least until ObamaCare is fully up and running.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has some more details on the medical-records disclosure, and allegations that Dewhurst played a role in it:

The costly, heated battle became more inflamed in the weeks before the election when documents that showed Patrick had been hospitalized for depression in the 1980s were given to the media.

Patrick said he admitted himself but added that his emotional state is much better and that he hasn’t needed treatment or medication in about 30 years. And he said that though the information was released by a former opponent, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, he believed that Dewhurst — a millionaire businessman who found himself running an underdog campaign — stooped “to a new low.”

Dewhurst’s campaign released a statement saying, “My heart goes out to Dan and his family for what they’ve endured while coping with his condition.” Patterson said he released the information because he believed that all Texans needed to know about it. Patrick said Patterson inadvertently sent out an email stating that it was Dewhurst’s idea.

Days before the election, Patrick offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who could produce an audio copy of a telephone push poll being conducted against him. “David Dewhurst won’t be able to hide from this dirty trick,” Patrick said. “He has run a disgustingly negative, mean-spirited campaign.”

The Texas Tribune has more about the medical-records controversy, including the text of the email from Patterson referred to by the Star-Telegram.  It’s not really water under the bridge yet, because the issue may well surface during Patrick’s general-election campaign against Democrat candidate Leticia Van de Putte, currently a state senator from San Antonio.  Patrick’s critics contend that he wasn’t completely honest in his official campaign biography about his treatment history, making a big deal about how it would damage him in the general election.  Perhaps that will be a self-fulfilling prophecy, although for the moment it seems like the whole affair has only served to energize Patrick supporters.  Lingering hard feelings over the finale of the long and bitter Republican primary could also influence how energetically the party rallies around Patrick in the general election.  Dewhurst was notably slow to declare support for his victorious rival.

It’s full steam ahead for Patrick, who riffed on the name of a Democrat political group in his statement to supporters: “This election means we’re going into November with a very strong ticket, with candidates elected by the most conservative voter base in the nation, and a team that can articulate the issues the way Texans want them to be.  The Democrats have chosen ‘Battleground Texas,’ and they’ve chosen the wrong battleground.  Voters wanted a strong conservative policy in this state, and they’ve chosen bold conservative leaders to keep Texas moving ahead.”

He also indulged in a bit of taunting: “If the Democrats think that they’re going to bring Obama liberalism to Texas and win, they have a long, cold day in November ahead of them.”  According to the Dallas Morning NewsPatrick declared his intention to campaign hard in the opposing party’s strongholds: “Some Democrats have said they wanted me to be the nominee.  Well, they’ve got me, and I’m coming.”

For his part, most observers expect Dewhurst to call it a career, as the 68-year-old businessman poured $5 million of his own money into his second losing race against the Tea Party in Texas – the first having cost him $20 million to lose the Senate race in a haze of negative campaigning against another upstart underdog named Ted Cruz.  Some campaign strategists in Texas really need to go back to the drawing board.

The Tea Party counted another big win in Texas by unseating 91-year-old incumbent Rep. Ralph Hall, the oldest sitting member of the House of Representatives.  Hall and Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), who is retiring at the end of this congressional session, were the last two World War II veterans serving in Congress.  Hall intended to make this his final term in Congress, if he won re-election.

Hall appears to have suffered from anti-incumbent sentiment, having actually won the largest share of the vote in last March’s primary, but losing last night’s runoff election by 4 points to challenger John Ratcliffe.  The Tea Party lines in this contest were a bit more blurred, with Hall having recently received high praise for both his military and congressional service from Senator Cruz, and an endorsement from Michelle Bachmann.  CBS News suggests Ratcliffe’s more modernized turnout system bested Hall’s old-fashioned street-level campaigning.  There was a bit of unpleasantness over Hall’s age, much of which involved the older incumbent tweaking his 48-year-old opponent for “running against my birth certificate” – something Ratcliffe insisted he wasn’t doing.

You’ve got to love the blunt statement Hall made to supporters after losing to Ratcliffe, 52-48: “I just got whipped and got beat.”

The Tea Party can also celebrate Ken Paxton winning the Republican nomination for Attorney General of Texas defeating State Rep. Dan Branch in the race to succeed current Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor.  This was another of those bare-knuckle political brawls, as recalled by the Dallas Morning Newswhich endorsed Branch:

The candidates are racing in an arena filled with the Republican Party’s most conservative and activist voters. That gives an advantage to Paxton, who sped to a first-place finish in the primary on the strength of his connections with the grass-roots element of the GOP.

Paxton won almost everywhere, including Branch’s own Dallas County.

Since then, Branch has been pounding Paxton over various legal and ethical lapses, including the senator’s $1,000 fine from the State Securities Board for not registering as he solicited clients for a North Texas investment firm.

Branch, with his 30 years of legal experience, has also tried to compare his extensive resume with Paxton’s, who has spent most of his legal career as an estate-planning lawyer.

In essence, the contest boils down to Branch, the attorney general candidate straight out of a casting call, or Paxton, the staunch conservative.

“The tea party affiliation is enough in this election, even with the personal dealing to think about” said Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson. “The tea party voter says that, ‘My guy, despite any limitations he might have, is better on his worse day than your guy on his best day.’”

There were also vague criticisms of Paxton’s business dealings, which made hay out of the large number of investment positions he secured while serving in the legislature, without explicit allegations that any of them were unsavory.  As the Dallas Morning News sees it, Paxton got through all this by running “one of the most closed campaigns in Texas politics… he’s rarely been on the campaign trail or granted interviews, even as Branch pounded him over the securities issue.”

Paxton went on to defeat Branch by 11 points in the initial primary, followed by an astounding 28 points in last night’s runoff, with support from Sen. Cruz.  KERA News has a sample of his victory speech:

“Tonight Texans have made their voice heard loud and clear: They want an attorney general who’ll defend our constitution and fight to restore the meaning of the 10th  amendment so that states can govern free from oppressive intrusion from the federal government,” Paxton said.

Paxton called himself the real conservative in the race, saying he wants Obamacare out of Texas, gun rights and religious freedoms protected, and the border secured.

“Liberty, freedom, and Texas values are the real winners tonight. We are locked in a struggle for the future of our families and our country,” Paxton said.

Paxton is now considered the favorite against Democrat Sam Jackson in the general election.

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