When Texas voters officially kick off the 2014 election season with Tuesday’s primaries, there won’t be many competitive races on the ballot. That doesn’t mean that the results won’t be signficant, however. The outcomes of several Republican primaries will paint a clear picture of the Tea Party’s power — or lack thereof — in one of the states that helped launch the movement into relevance over the past five years.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) has long appeared vulnerable to a right-wing primary challenge due to his position in congressional leadership and his insufficient support for fellow Texas Republican senator Ted Cruz’s government shutdown and debt ceiling standoffs.
No serious competition ever emerged, however. U.S. Representative Steve Stockman is the best known of Senator Cornyn’s seven Republican challengers, but his insurgent campaign — which was always a long shot — never really got off the ground. Stockman has struggled with numerous controversies including a condemned campaign office and a mysterious disappearance from the campaign trail, which led a Texas Tea Party group to suggest that his Senate bid “might be the laziest statewide campaign to date.”
The lastest polling of the race finds Cornyn leading Stockman 62 to 16 percent among likely Republican primary voters. That would give Cornyn a majority of the vote, allowing him to avoid a May 27 runoff election.
Stockman is not the only self-described Tea Party candidate to struggle to gain support in 2014.
U.S. Representative Pete Sessions, a powerful Republican representing Texas’ 32nd congressional district, is facing a primary challenge from Tea Party activist Katrina Pierson. Although Pierson has gathered some high-profile endorsements on the right — including former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and Senator Cruz’s father, pastor Rafael Cruz — her campaign has failed to gain much traction or raise much money. While Pierson began the year as a rising star of the right, Sessions now has a good chance to clear 50 percent on Tuesday and avoid a runoff.
In fairness, even if the Tea Party fails to knock off Cornyn or Sessions it would hardly be a devastating blow for movement conservatives. According to the Club for Growth’s 2013 congressional scorecard, Cornyn and Sessions have 88 percent and 83 percent lifetime conservative scores, respectively.
The Tea Party may have a better chance in Texas’ Republican primary for lieutentant governor, where incumbent David Dewhurst — who is best known for being upset by Cruz in Texas’ 2012 Senate primary — is locked in a tight battle for a fourth term with state senator Dan Patrick. According to a February 24 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, Dewhurst leads Patrick by a 37 to 31 percent margin, with Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples at 17 percent and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson at 15 percent.
Patrick has presented himself as the true Tea Party candidate in the race, and boasts endorsements from several Tea Party leaders, including former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. The race seems destined for a runoff, but with a respectable margin on Tuesday, Patrick can improve his odds of consolidating right-wing support in the next round of balloting.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr