Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Thursday, December 8, 2016

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times

HOUSTON — Republican incumbents threatened by tea party challengers emerged triumphant in Tuesday’s Texas primary, with longtime U.S. Senator John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions coasting to victory.

The primary also marked the electoral debut of the fourth generation of the Bush dynasty with George P. Bush’s candidacy. The son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, nephew and grandson of the former presidents and great-grandson of a U.S. senator, the 37-year-old won the Republican nomination for Texas land commissioner, a little-known but powerful post that has served as a launching pad for state politics.

The Associated Press projected all three as the winners shortly after polls closed.

The Texas election kicked off the 2014 campaign season with themes expected to play out among conservatives across the country this year. Cornyn was one of more than a dozen incumbent GOP senators facing tea party opponents, and Bush is among several candidates trying to parlay family ties into elective office.

Cornyn, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, led in early returns Tuesday over U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, who represents a district to the south and east of Houston. Stockman waged a bizarre campaign, skipping public appearances and relying on gags such as rewarding donors with Obama barf bags. The victory makes Cornyn the odds-on favorite in November; Democrats have not won statewide office in Texas in 20 years.

Some experts consider Cornyn’s margin of victory, once all the ballots are counted, a bellwether of anti-incumbent sentiment.

“If Cornyn comes out below 60 percent, then the sense is that he looks relatively weak,” said Jim Henson, who directs the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. As early votes were counted, Cornyn was exceeding that level.

“It’s a protest vote,” said Stuart Rothenberg, who analyzes races for his nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, adding that if Stockman were to get 20 percent to 25 percent of the vote, “it would tell you there’s a chunk of the Republican Party who will vote for anybody who challenges the Republican establishment.”

Mark Jones, chairman of the political science department at Houston’s Rice University, was tracking Cornyn’s margin of victory compared with that of Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott.