U.S. Senator John Cornyn, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, won nomination for another term yesterday as he garnered more than 50 percent of the Texas primary vote to avoid a runoff with a Tea Party challenger.
Cornyn’s victory provides reassurance for business-oriented Republicans closely watching -- and in many cases investing in - - primary contests that pit party incumbents against candidates espousing the Tea Party’s limited government creed.
Texas’s primary was the year’s first statewide electoral test, with others following in the coming months as both parties pick their candidates for November’s ballot.
“I’ve been honored by support from the full range of our conservative coalition –- social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, Tea Party supporters, libertarians, national security hawks, and everyone in between,” Cornyn said in a statement last night.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Cornyn had 59 percent, according to the Associated Press tally. Running second, with 19 percent, was U.S. Representative Steve Stockman, a Tea Party favorite when he began his race against Cornyn in December. Six other candidates were splitting the rest of the vote.
Had Cornyn, 62, fallen short of the 50 percent mark, he would have faced a May 27 runoff race against the primary’s second-place finisher. A similar scenario within the Texas Republican Party eventually resulted in the 2012 election of Senator Ted Cruz, who has since emerged as one of the nation’s leading Tea Party voices.
The race for the Democratic Senate nomination will be decided in a runoff David Alameel, a dentist-turned-financial investor, and Kesha Rogers, who has called for the impeachment of her party’s leader, President Barack Obama, and is a follower of one-time perennial presidential candidate Lyndon Larouche. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Alameel had 47 percent of the vote in the five-candidate primary while Rogers had 22 percent, according to the AP.
No Democrat has won a statewide race in Texas since 1994.
State Senator Wendy Davis will be among those Democrats trying to break that streak this year. Davis, 50, who earned national attention last year with her efforts to block a Texas law restricting abortions, won her party’s gubernatorial nomination against a sole opponent.
She will square off against Attorney General Greg Abbott, 56, who defeated three other candidates in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Republican Governor Rick Perry, 64, decided not to seek another term after more than 13 years in office.
U.S. Representative Ralph Hall, at 90 the oldest member ever to serve in the House, is headed for a runoff in his northeast Texas district after facing five Republican primary challengers, according to the AP.
Hall had 45 percent of the vote, with 100 percent of precincts reporting. Running second, with 29 percent, was John Ratcliffe, a former prosecutor. He blanketed the district with television ads, including one that said he’s part of a “new generation” of leaders and has “the energy” to fight Obama.
Hall was first elected in 1980.
George P. Bush, 37, a son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and nephew of former president George W. Bush, won the Republican primary for land commissioner, a statewide office.
In the Republican Senate primary, Stockman, 57, largely disappeared from public view after announcing his candidacy. He missed several House votes and didn’t mount an aggressive campaign.
A coalition of Texas Tea Party leaders last week disavowed him and announced their support for another Cornyn challenger. “As your campaign rolled into 2014, Texans have witnessed what might be the laziest statewide campaign to date,” the activists wrote of Stockman in an open letter.
They endorsed Dwayne Stovall, who had 11 percent of the vote in the AP tally.
Cornyn’s political test came in an election year in which six of 12 Republican senators seeking re-election face primary challengers, most of whom are aligned with the Tea Party.
Republicans need a net gain of six seats in November’s elections to take control of the Senate. The primary races worry some party leaders, who fear that as in 2010 and 2012 the intra-party fights could aid Democrats. In 2012, for instance, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, a six-term Republican, lost in a primary to a Tea Party-backed candidate, who then was defeated in the general election by Democrat Joe Donnelly.
The outcomes of this year’s primary contests will also provide clues about the party’s direction as the 2016 presidential campaign gears up.
Cornyn’s voting history has angered some Tea Party activists in Texas, with the latest example occurring last month when he supported a procedural move that cleared the way for Congress to lift the federal debt ceiling.
He and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who also faces a Tea Party-aligned primary challenger, backed the procedural measure after Cruz insisted on a 60-vote threshold to advance the bill. That meant at least five Republicans were needed to help the 55-member Democratic caucus move the legislation forward.
Cornyn and McConnell then voted against the actual debt-limit bill. McConnell is next up among incumbent Senate Republicans facing high-profile primary challenges, with a May 20 contest.
Cruz, mentioned as a possible presidential contender, declined to say last week whether he would be voting for Cornyn in his state’s primary.
“That’s between me and the ballot box,” he said at a breakfast in Washington. “It ain’t that hard for an incumbent senator to get re-elected, and if an incumbent needs my help to hold onto their seat, then there’s something really wrong that’s happened with the grassroots voters back home.”
The Tea Party’s political peak came in the 2010 elections, when it helped fuel the Republican takeover of the U.S. House. Since then, its standing in the party has diminished. That decline was heightened after efforts by Cruz and other Tea Party-backed Republicans to derail the Affordable Care Act -- Obama’s signature legislative initiative -- helped trigger a 16-day government shutdown last October.
Public opinion surveys showed Republicans took the brunt of the blame, with the party’s favorability rating dropping to a record low 28 percent in the Gallup poll.