Don’t mess with Texas, Obama. Mr. President, you’re not a king! I’ll fight Obama’s liberal agenda. I’ll fight against Obama’s attacks on Texas. Come and take it, Obama. Judging by campaign ads and platform speeches, one could understandably assume the Republican primary candidates vying for Texas lieutenant governor are running squarely against the President.
“You would think Obama is hiding in a bush somewhere with an AK-47, ready to attack Texans,” local Democratic campaign consultant Christian Archer tells the Current.
The Obama bashing is indicative of the Republican primary race itself—a transparent attempt to once again rile up the Tea Party base with heaping helpings of red meat.
In a game of unprecedented extremist one-upmanship, the four candidates—state Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples and incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst—are trampling over each other in arguably the most competitive statewide primary race, trying to prove who wears the ultra-conservative badge best.
For example, during their first televised debate, all candidates opposed abortion, even in cases of rape or incest; supported the teaching of Creationism in public schools; and shared staunch anti-immigration views, like opposing in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.
“The right wing has hijacked their party. I thought this was the period in which true moderation would take place—it’s clearly not,” says Archer.
Why so extreme? Part of the reason, he says, is that the GOP candidates are doing everything they can to appeal to not just socially conservative Republicans but the powerful Tea Party fringe, whose voting power knocked down Dewhurst in his 2012 bid for U.S. Senate and ushered in Tea Party darling Ted Cruz. On the campaign trail, Cruz turned Dewhurst’s conservatism into milquetoast centrism.
“I think all Republicans running in a primary right now are scared of being Cruzed,” Archer says.
Local GOP strategist Kelton Morgan agrees, “I think there’s a fair element of people smelling blood in the water. The Tea Party see this great victory two years ago, and see that Dewhurst is definitely vulnerable—so they’re thinking, ‘Let’s try to win again.’”
Morgan predicts several of the races will head into runoffs, including the lite guv race, likely pitting Dewhurst and either Patrick or (only slightly more moderate) Patterson as the contender. The question becomes, “Is the primary electorate hard right enough to put someone like Dan Patrick into a runoff with the lieutenant governor?” According to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released earlier this week, signs point to yes: While Dewhurst leads with 37 percent, rival Patrick comes in second, garnering 31 percent of the projected vote among those surveyed.
But if they’re destined to implode from the weight of their right-wing nuttery, let ‘em, says Archer.
In other words, sinking deep into the culture wars can clear the path for a dose of sensible moderation. Serious policy issues—like water funding, transportation and jobs—get left on the sidelines in favor of cultural wedge issues like abortion and marriage equality, potentially alienating moderate Republican voters.
Take for instance, the Republican lieutenant governor candidates’ hardline, no-exceptions abortion position in contrast to the mainstream GOP opinion. Of the Republicans surveyed in a 2013 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, 41 percent, a plurality, support the procedure in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the woman’s life. Just 16 percent of Republicans said that abortion should never be permitted.
But that’s general election talk. Primaries have increasingly become a fight away from the center, bolstered by historically low voter turn out. In the last gubernatorial primary, less than 13 percent of registered Bexar County voters showed up. In Texas, candidates and campaign staff need only appeal to a fraction of the population—roughly 1.4 million Republicans (out of 26 million Texans overall) voted in the 2010 GOP primary, according to Secretary of State records. And those that do cast a ballot are notoriously the most strident voters from both sides of the the aisle.
Both Morgan and Archer agree: The trend toward political extremism won’t be deviating from its expected path any time soon.
“The type of people that are going to take the time to educate and vote in a primary are a lot more committed to their cause,” says Morgan. “Nobody is inspired to moderation.”
Here’s a list of some of the more popular contested races in the primaries. Where a Democrat or Republican is running unchallenged within their party, we have removed their name.
Michael “Fjet” Fjetland
Maxey Marie Scherr
David M. Alameel
U.S. House Representatives-
Michael J. Smith
U.S. House Representatives-
Francisco “Quico” Canseco
Governor of Texas – Open Seat
Reynaldo “Ray” Madrigal
Wendy R. Davis
Attorney General — Open Seat
Comptroller of Public Accounts – Open Seat
Land Commissioner — Open Seat
George P. Bush
Commissioner of Agriculture- Open Seat
J. Allen Carnes
Richard “Kinky” Friedman
Hugh Asa Fitzsimons III
Railroad Commissioner — Open Seat
State Senator, District 25
State Representative, District 117
John V. Garza
State Representative, District 121
Bexar County Judge
Esmeralda “Esme” Montez
Mary Angie Garcia
Christopher Michael Forbrich
Suzanne de Leon
County Commissioner, Precinct 2
County Commissioner, Precinct 4 – Open Seat
Alan E. Baxter
Reinette King Alecozay
Sheila D. McNeil
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