Tea Party regroups in Texas

Bloomberg NewsMay 29, 2014 

— The brew is weaker but still being drunk in Texas, as the tea party there bucked a national trend and toppled more establishment Republicans on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s vote marks the end of the line for two of the most durable figures in Texas. Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst lost his bid to run for re-election to Dan Patrick, a state legislator and radio host, and 17-term Rep. Ralph Hall lost to a lawyer, John Ratcliffe.

With those victories and a few others down ballot, the Texas Republicans are no longer George W. Bush’s party, nor Rick Perry’s, but Ted Cruz’s. Compared to Republicans now, both Bush and Perry were softies on immigration. It’s not likely that a Republican pushing in-state tuition privileges for the children of illegal immigrants, as Perry did, could win office today.

Patrick is to the right of Ted Cruz, who won his party’s Senate nomination in 2012 in a low-turnout runoff. Patrick was slammed for employing undocumented workers in his Houston-area sports bar in the 1980s (he claimed ignorance), leaving behind $800,000 in unpaid debts after going bankrupt, and ridiculed in a video to the tune of “Let it Go” for changing his name (“Dannie Goeb, Dannie Goeb, I can’t lie to you anymore”). In a blow that may have backfired, a Dewhurst supporter put out medical records purporting to show that Patrick was mentally unstable and had attempted suicide.

But Patrick hit the sweet spot of tea party activists with his far-right positions on gay marriage, guns, the environment, taxes, immigration, and abortion. He hammered the incumbent Dewhurst, who presided over the Senate, for creating national phenomenon Wendy Davis by not blocking her filibuster of a bill restricting abortions. Not that this is going to matter. Davis won the Democratic primary back in March to go up against Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott in November. She is running behind by double digits.

The Patrick win is a loss for the national Republican establishment and the Chamber of Commerce, and a long-term win for Democrats. Patrick will drive the state further right and accelerate the turning of a reliably red state purple as more Hispanics and young people turn out to vote.

The other marquee race gives credence to Karl Rove’s effort to intimidate Hillary Clinton out of running on the basis of age and health. Hall, 91 and running for his 18th term, was defeated by a former U.S. attorney, John Ratcliffe, backed by the tea party, who came out and said voters should be concerned that Hall was too old to serve. The race holds the distinction of being the first this cycle to oust an incumbent, finally providing ballast to polls showing how hated incumbents are.

In the category of likely sacrificial lamb, Democrat David Alameel, a wealthy Dallas dentist, beat Kesha Rogers, an outlier ignored by the national party, to go up against incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn. To demonstrate how conservative Democrats in Texas are, Rogers made it to a runoff despite being an ardent Lyndon LaRouche supporter and advocating impeaching President Barack Obama, whom she pictured in campaign signs with a Hitler mustache. Cornyn is expected to coast to re-election.

In the category of a lot less to laugh about in Texas, comedian, country music singer and frequent candidate Kinky Friedman, who kept his opponent under 50 percent in March, lost his race for the Democratic nomination to be agricultural commissioner to cattle rancher Jim Hogan.

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