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Texas Primary: Attorney General Ken Paxton forced into runoff with George P. Bush

Republican Governor Greg Abbott and Democrat Beto O’Rourke win big in governor primaries, setting up November clash

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, facing criminal charges and an FBI investigation triggered by his own former aides, will now also have to survive a Republican runoff to keep his job after failing to capture a majority in Tuesday’s primary in his bid for a third term.

Ken Paxton and George P. Bush

His opponent in the May runoff will be Land Commissioner George P. Bush, setting up a high-voltage contest between one of Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters and a scion of a Texas political family known for holding the former president in minimum high regard.

Tuesday’s primary also set up, as expected, a high-profile November match-up between Republican Governor Greg Abbott and Democrat Beto O’Rourke, both of whom easily won their party’s primaries.

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller also survived a primary challenge, defeating State Rep. James White with 59% of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff.

Miller had run into political headwinds after a series of battles with state legislators and the indictment of a former campaign consultant on bribery charges related to hemp licenses overseen by his office.

Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick also won renomination and will now face the winner of a Democratic runoff between Mike Collier, a former oil company executive from Georgetown who lost to Patrick by 5 points in 2018, and State Rep. Michelle Beckley from Carrollton.

Despite his legal and ethical problems, Paxton finished first among Republicans, buoyed by the endorsement of Donald Trump; Paxton had been a vocal supporter of Trump’s legal fights to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.

Paxton received 42% of the primary vote, compared to 22% for Bush, the son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and nephew of former Texas governor and President George W. Bush. Former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman came in third at 18%.

Tuesday’s primary ended, for the moment, the political career of U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, the controversial pro-Trump conservative voice who gave up his safe House seat to parachute into the attorney general’s race, where he got just 17% of the vote.

Paxton is under indictment for securities fraud and is also under investigation by the FBI after former top aides in his office accused him of bribery. They are also suing him after he fired them.

Trump, who has endorsed Paxton, has had a frosty relationship with the Bush family, particularly George P. Bush’s father, Jeb Bush, whom he defeated in the 2016 Republican presidential race.

However, George P. Bush has taken a different line from much of his family, casting himself as a Trump supporter in an effort to avoid fallout from his family name.

Democrats will also have a runoff for attorney general between Rochelle Garza, an immigration lawyer and former ACLU staff attorney from Brownsville, and former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski.

Paxton’s primary opponents have argued that given the ethical clouds that surround him, his nomination would risk losing the seat to Democrats in November.

No Democrat has won a statewide office in Texas since 1994.

In the governor’s race, Abbott will be seeking a third term against O’Rourke, a former congressman from El Paso who lost a close race for U.S. Senate in 2018 and then made an early exit from the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination after failing to gain traction.

Abbott had been challenged from the right by former State Senator Don Huffines and Allen West, who resigned as state GOP chair to run for governor. Both had criticized Abbott for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Trump’s early endorsement of the governor took the wind out of their anti-establishment campaigns.

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Texas kicks off 2022 midterms with primaries featuring battles for attorney general, U.S. House

Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton and Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar trying to hang on amid FBI investigations

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TexasAUSTIN (CFP) — Voters in Texas kick off the 2022 midterm elections with the nation’s first party primary Tuesday, featuring a pitched battle among Republicans for attorney general, the last pro-life Democratic in the U.S. House trying to hang on to his South Texas seat, and two House Republicans facing primary challenges for not being sufficiently pro-Trump.

paxton cuellar

Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton and Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar facing primary challenges

Voters will pick party nominees for statewide offices, including governor and lieutenant governor, as well as races for 38 U.S. House seats and the state legislature, which are being fought under newly drawn maps.

No U.S. Senate seat is up this year in the Lone Star State.

Polls for in-person voting open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m., in both the Central and Mountain time zones.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott is expected to easily dispatch seven primary challengers, on his way to a November match-up with Democratic former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a prohibitive favorite in the Democratic primary.

Seven Republicans holding statewide executive offices are running for re-election, with two facing fierce primary challenges to keep their posts.

Attorney General Ken Paxton – who is being investigated by the FBI and sued by former staffers in his office while facing a criminal trial for securities fraud – is facing three primary challengers, including Land Commissioner George P. Bush, the third generation of his famous family involved in Texas politics; U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, who gave up his House seat to take a last-minute plunge into the race; and Eva Guzman, who left the state Supreme Court to run against Paxton.

Pre-election polls indicated that Paxton, who has been endorsed by Donald Trump, will likely face a runoff against Bush, setting up a MAGA-vs.-Establishment free-for-all in the May 24 contest.

Five Democrats are waiting in the wings for the Republican primary winner, with hopes of winning the party’s first statewide race in 28 years, particularly if Paxton prevails.

Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is also facing a tight battle with two Republican challengers, amid ongoing battles with state legislators and the indictment of a campaign consultant on bribery charges related to hemp licenses overseen by his office.

State Rep. James White from Hillister, the only black Republican in the Texas House, has scooped up endorsements from 20 fellow lawmakers in his bid to unseat Miller. Also in the race is Carey Counsil, a rancher and real estate developer from Brenham.

In U.S. House District 28 in South Texas, moderate Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar from Laredo – the last pro-life Democrat left in the House – is facing Jessica Cisneros, a Laredo immigration lawyer who has the backing of key figures in the Democratic left, including Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and New York U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Cisneros came within 3,000 votes of unseating Cuellar in 2020. The district has since been redrawn, and Cuellar is also running under the shadow of a January FBI raid on his home and office, related to an investigation of donations connected to Azerbaijan. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Republicans in the Texas legislature made the majority-Hispanic district more Republican, and it will be a top GOP target in the fall. Joe Biden would have carried it by just four points.

In U.S. House District 3 in suburban Dallas, U.S. Rep. Van Taylor is facing four Republican challengers who are hitting him for voting to certify President Joe Biden’s Electoral College win and supporting a congressional investigation into the January 6th riot at the U.S. Capitol.

In U.S. House District 2 in suburban Houston, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who has been seen as a rising Republican star since his election in 2018, is also facing three primary challengers after criticizing Trump for his actions on January 6th and opposing efforts to thwart Biden’s victory.

Two other open U.S. House seats have triggered primary battles, one in each party, for seats where the primary will likely decide the November winner.

In heavily Republican District 8 in suburban Houston, where U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady is retiring, the primary race has turned into a proxy battle between the Republican establishment and hard-right MAGA luminaries in the House Freedom Caucus.

Morgan Luttrell, a Navy veteran and former adviser in the U.S. Department of Energy, is running with the backing of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, former governor Rick Perry, and U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of Trump’s most vocal critics.

Luttrell served with Kinzinger in the military and has said he considers him a friend and “not a traitor to his country.” But pressed by his opponents over their relationship, Luttrell said he returned a campaign donation from Kinzinger and doesn’t “agree with anything Adam says politically anymore.”

On the other side, conservative political consultant and podcaster Christian Collins is backed by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Madison Cawthorn and My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell.

In District 30 in Dallas, where veteran Democratic U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson is retiring, nine Democrats are competing for the nomination to represent the majority-minority district. Johnson endorsed State Rep. Jasmine Crockett as her successor.

In District 15, a seat that Democratic U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez gave up to seek re-election in a neighboring district, six Democrats and eight Republicans are vying for their party’s nomination.

The newly configured district, which stretches from San Antonio to the Rio Grande Valley, is expected to be a battleground between the two parties in the fall. Biden would have carried it by less than two points in 2020.

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Hot or not, in or out: Our forecast of 2022’s most interesting Southern political races

Trump’s sway will be key metric in outcome of midterm elections across region

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Decision 2022(CFP) — 2022 has dawned, and with it a mid-term election year in which most Southern states will decide who gets to be their governor and congressional races across the region will play a key role in deciding which party controls Congress.

Of the eight Southern states with open races for governor this year, seven will feature incumbents seeking re-election, with the only open race in Arkansas, where former Donald Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders appears on her way to victory.

Nine U.S. Senate seats will be up, with open races in Alabama and North Carolina and Georgia Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock battling for a full term after winning a special election runoff in 2020.

Here is a look at some of the hottest races, and likely biggest political stories, of the upcoming year.

Reapportionment Primary-Palooza

The redrawing of new U.S. House maps after reapportionment has set up two Southern primary contests, one in each party, where incumbents will need to defeat a current colleague to stay in Congress.

In Georgia, Republican mapmakers have pitted Democratic U.S. Reps. Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux against each other in Atlanta’s suburbs. McBath’s existing district in the northwest suburbs became too Republican for her to survive; Bourdeaux’s in the northeast suburbs actually became more Democratic with the addition of areas that had been in McBath’s orbit.

The two women — who campaigned with each other in 2018 and 2020 and differ little politically — will face off in what is likely to be an expensive primary. McBath has a stronger national profile and fundraising operation, but the district now centers on Gwinnett County, which Bourdeaux currently represents.

One caveat is that voting rights groups are suing the block the new map, which, if successful, could provide a wrinkle ahead of the March filing deadline.

In West Virginia, the loss of one of the state’s three U.S. House seats sets up a primary contest between Republican U.S. Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney for a new district that includes the northern half of the state.

However, this race will have more of an ideological flavor than the primary in Georgia. Mooney, a former Washington lobbyist who moved to the state in 2014 from Maryland to run for Congress, is a member of the ultra-conservative, anti-establishment Freedom Caucus. McKinley, a seventh-generation West Virginian and former state party chair, is more aligned with the Republican Party’s establishment wing.

Expect to hear a great deal in this race about McKinley’s vote in favor of establishing a bipartisan commission to investigation the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, which Mooney opposed.

The Power of Trump

The former president has already been active in offering endorsements and pursuing revenge, particularly against Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for refusing to indulge his claims of widespread fraud in the state’s 2020 vote.

Trump recruited former U.S. Senator David Perdue to run against Kemp, setting off what is likely to be a bare-knuckled brawl in the Republican primary ahead of a stiff challenge from Democrat Stacey Abrams. He also endorsed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice’s bid to unseat Raffensperger.

And in one of the strangest early developments of the 2020 campaign, Trump also reportedly encouraged his former ambassador to Slovenia, Lindy Blanchard, to drop out of the U.S. Senate race to run instead against the very popular Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, in a fit of pique over cancellation of a July 4th Trump rally (a decision Ivey did not actually make.)

Trump has also waded into the attorney general’s race in Texas with an endorsement of incumbent Ken Paxton, who has drawn a gaggle of primary challengers (including Bush family scion George P. Bush and stalwart pro-Trump U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert) after a criminal indictment and FBI bribery investigation.

Taking down Ivey would seem a long shot at this point; Kemp is holding his own against Perdue in early polls; and Paxton race seems likely to be headed to an unpredictable runoff in March. So it remains to be seen whether the Trump endorsement machine will produce results in 2022.

Trump has also endorsed in three U.S. Senate races. In Georgia, his nod put Herschel Walker on a glide path to the Republican nomination, but his chosen candidates in Alabama (U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks) and North Carolina (U.S. Rep. Ted Budd) are facing tough primary battles against more establishment candidates.

Adding to the MAGA Squad

Trump’s election has led to the rise of a core group of MAGA-philes in the House – social media savvy, outspoken, and willing to pounce on fellow Republicans who display the slightest scrap of bipartisanship. Among this group are Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, Florida’s Matt Gaetz, the aforementioned Gohmert and Brooks, and North Carolina’s Madison Cawthorn.

In 2022, they are hoping to add to their numbers by offering endorsements and fundraising help to like-minded candidates across the South and around the country, which will put them in position to be power brokers if Republicans take control of the House (a prospect likely to give House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy heartburn.)

Some of these candidates are little known and will face tough climbs against incumbent Republicans. But it is worth noting that both Greene and Cawthorn followed this same playbook successfully in 2020, going from unknowns to the halls of Congress with lightning speed.

Southern Black Woman in the U.S. Senate?

No black woman has ever been elected to represent a Southern state in the Senate. This year, Democrats are poised to pick two black women as their Senate nominees – U.S. Rep. Val Demings in Florida and Cheri Beasley in North Carolina.

Demings, the former police chief of Orlando who served on the first House impeachment committee that investigated Trump, faces an uphill climb against Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, particularly with his strong core of support among Hispanic voters in South Florida. But with her national profile, she has been posting strong fundraising numbers that could make the race competitive.

Beasley, the former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, may have better prospects in running for an open seat in a race where Republicans are slogging through a multi-candidate race in which Trump has intervened in favor of Budd.

A victory by either in November will make history.

Palmetto State “RINOs”

The most serious insult that can be hurled in Republican politics these days is to call someone a RINO – a Republican in Name Only.

Two incumbent U.S. House members in South Carolina have been branded with the RINO label by their critics – Nancy Mace in the Lowcountry and Tom Rice in the Pee Dee – and are each facing multiple challengers in their respective Republican primaries.

Mace was among the few Republican House members to offer criticism of Trump after the January 6th Capitol attack, although she did not vote to impeach him. Rice did, which got him censured by the state’s Republican Party, and he compounded his sin among the MAGA fervency by supporting the bipartisan commission to investigate the attacks.

As a result, Mace has four GOP challengers; Rice has 12. Trump has encouraged their challengers but has yet to announce a favorite. His blessing may be good enough to earn a runoff slot against the incumbent.

Thinking Outside The Box

After Warnock won a January special U.S. Senate election runoff in Georgia, he immediately become the Republicans’ primary 2022 target. Yet, no sitting U.S. House member ventured to take him on, nor did the three Republicans who ran against him in 2020.

Enter Herschel Walker, University of Georgia football hero and NFL standout. Though he carries significant personal baggage and has not a whiff of political experience, he does have the one accessory every Republican candidate wants in 2022 – Trump’s blessing.

Trump’s endorsement didn’t clear the primary field, but it did get Republican Senate leaders in Washgington behind Walker’s candidacy – taking a significant leap of faith in a race against a charismatic Democrat with Obama-level political skills.

Is this a gamble that will pay off or blow up? The answer may decide control of the Senate.

Beto O’Crist for Governor

The good people of Texas told Beto O’Rourke that they didn’t want him to be their senator in 2018, even after he spent $80 million trying to persuade them otherwise. The good people of Iowa and New Hampshire told him they didn’t want him to be their president in 2020, without nearly as much money going down the drain.

But not willing to take no and no for an answer, O’Rourke is back again, running this time for governor against incumbent Republican Greg Abbott. Only this time, he’s running in the gun-loving Lone Star State after telling a Democratic presidential debate audience that he was in favor of confiscating their assault weapons.

But lest you think Beto is the region’s most resolute embracer of questionable causes, he pales in comparison to Florida’s well-tanned political chameleon Charlie Crist, who is running for governor again this year after losing two statewide races in the past eight years and metamorphosing from a conservative Republican into an independent and then into a liberal Democrat.

Which begs the question: What part of “no” don’t you understand?

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Southern Judiciary Committee members split on party lines in William Barr contempt vote

Committee holds attorney general in contempt for refusing to produce Mueller report

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Southern members of the House Judiciary Committee have voted along party lines to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt for refusing to turn over an unredacted version of special counsel Robert Muller’s final report.

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Georgia

Among the 10 Southern Democrats voting for the contempt measure May 8 was freshman U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, a top GOP target in 2020 in a Republican-leaning district in the Atlanta suburbs, and U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida, another top Republican target next year.

Leading the charge against the contempt citation was another Georgian, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who is the ranking Republican member of the Judiciary panel. He accused the Democrats of sour grapes in targeting Barr.

“(They) are angry the special counsel’s report did not produce the material or conclusions they expected to pave their path to impeaching the president,” Collins said.

The committee approved the contempt resolution 24-16. It will now go to the full House, where it is expected to pass.

A contempt citation would express the displeasure of the House but would not result in any official action against Barr. However, it would mark only the second time in U.S. history that an attorney general has been held in contempt by a house of Congress.

Democrats have demanded to see a full, unredacted version of the report. But Barr has insisted that legal restrictions preclude him from turning it over.

President Donald Trump has also invoked executive privilege to avoid disclosing the report, setting off a potentially protracted legal battle with House Democrats.

Among the Democrats voting yes in addition to McBath and Mucarsel-Powell were Shelia Jackson Lee, Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar of Texas; Ted Deutch and Val Demings of Florida; Hank Johnson of Georgia; Steve Cohen of Tennessee; and Cedric Richmond of Louisiana.

Republicans voting no in addition to Collins were Louie Gohmert and John Ratcliffe of Texas; Martha Roby of Alabama;  Mike Johnson of Louisiana; Ben Cline of Virginia; and Greg Steube of Florida.

Matt Gaetz of Florida did not vote, although he did speak against the resolution during the debate preceding the vote.

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U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster’s bid for speaker crushed by Paul Ryan wave

Webster received only nine votes, eight from his fellow Southerners

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugWASHINGTON (CFP) — Florida U.S Rep. Daniel Webster’s longshot bid for House speaker has come up short — 227 votes short, to be exact.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster

Webster, a Winter Haven Republican, garnered just nine votes in the October 29 vote, which saw the rise of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin into the top leadership spot.

Ryan received support from 236 of the chamber’s 247 Republicans. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, received support from 184 out of the 188 Democrats.

Webster, 66, launched his campaign for speaker September 28, after former House Speaker John Boehner stepped down amid a rebellion by conservatives in the GOP caucus.

Initially, members of the House Freedom Caucus–made up of the House’s most conservative members–endorsed Webster, a former speaker of the state House in Florida. However, after Ryan entered the race, that support began to melt away.

Of the 38 Freedom Caucus members, only six stuck with Webster on the final vote.

Among the nine House members who supported Webster, eight were Southerners: Dave Brat of Virginia; Curt Clawson, Bill Posey and Ted Yoho of Florida; Louie Gohmert and Randy Weber of Texas; Walter Jones of North Carolina; and Thomas Massie of Kentucky.

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