Wendy Davis Wins Texas Primary as State Veers Further to the Right
Far-right Texas Republicans prospered in the first US primary of the year as it was confirmed that Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott will square off in the battle to be the state’s next governor. Davis parlayed the national celebrity garnered from her epic filibuster last June into a high-profile bid to become Texas’s first Democratic governor in two decades.
On Tuesday night the state senator from Fort Worth comfortably secured her party’s nomination. Texas attorney general Abbott easily won the Republican contest to replace Rick Perry, who is stepping down as governor after 14 years in charge following November’s general election.
Mindful of US senator Ted Cruz’s insurgent victory over David Dewhurst in 2012 and ongoing status as a Tea Party darling, Republican candidates in this primary have veered even more to the right than usual on issues such as abortion, border control, same-sex marriage, religion in schools and the importance of opposing the Obama administration on more or less everything.
The scraps between anti-establishment Tea Partiers and more moderate Republicans that played out in Texas are expected to be revisited in other state primaries later this year. The vulnerability of establishment candidates to challenges from feisty underdogs was highlighted in the heated four-man race for lieutenant governor, where Dewhurst, the incumbent, fared worse than expected and was forced into a run-off in May.
Dewhurst’s critics have depicted him as the man who “created” Davis, since he was in charge of overseeing the senate vote on the night of her filibuster against highly-restrictive abortion legislation. Since losing to Cruz he has sought to burnish his right-wing credentials, last year calling for President Obama to be impeached.
With about half of the votes counted he was set to finish a distant second to Dan Patrick, a state senator and radio talk show host whose aggressive and controversial campaign borrowed several pages from the Cruz playbook.
State senator Ken Paxton ran advertisements highlighting his connections with Cruz. Paxton led in the attorney general contest, which was also heading to a run-off. The oldest member of the US Congress, 90-year-old Ralph Hall, faces a run-off in his attempt to win an 18th term.
Cruz declined to endorse his fellow senator John Cornyn, who faced seven challengers but comfortably won his primary all the same. Any Tea Party dreams of replacing Cornyn with an even more uncompromisingly conservative candidate were scuppered when Steve Stockman, a US congressman who was potentially his biggest threat, ran such a feckless campaign that influential local members disowned him.
Democratic strategists formed the Battleground Texas initiative last year in a bid to mobilise and swell support in Texas by using some of the same tactics successfully employed during the 2012 presidential election. They are optimistic that demographic shifts in Texas, notably a burgeoning Hispanic population, will help the country’s second-most populous state “turn blue” in the long-term.
Democrats are hopeful that Davis’s momentum and fame will accelerate the process but her campaign has been fitful so far. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll last month found that Abbott held an 11-point lead over Davis.
The 50-year-old raised eyebrows when she said she is potentially in favour of a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. She appeared out of step with much of her own party when she said that she supports extendingfirearms rights to allow Texans openly to carry handguns in public places.
And one of her greatest strengths – her backstory as a single mother living in a trailer who became a Harvard law school graduate – became a source of controversy in January when a Dallas Morning News article suggested that some biographical details may have been omitted or misstated.
The Abbott campaign has used Davis’s emergence as a call to arms and a warning against complacency. The 56-year-old reportedly has a campaign war chest of $30m, almost three times the size of Davis’s budget. Davis told supporters after the polls closed: “I will be a governor who fights for all freedoms – not certain freedoms for certain people. Greg Abbott wants to dictate for all women, including victims of rape or incest, what decisions they should make. I will be a governor who fights for Texas’s future. Greg Abbott? He’s just a defender of the status quo.”
A new governor will almost certainly be joining a very familiar name in the Texas capitol. George P Bush, the nephew of George W Bush, grandson of George HW Bush and son of the former Florida governor Jeb Bush, secured the Republican nomination for land commissioner – a powerful position that could be a stepping stone to a bigger role.
The 37-year-old former corporate attorney and US navy veteran is seen as a rising Republican star with the potential to connect with Hispanic voters. Born in Houston, his mother was born in Mexico and he is fluent in Spanish. Given the Republican domination of all statewide races in recent Texas elections, Bush is likely to beat John Cook, the former mayor of El Paso, in November.
The elections were the latest test of Texas’s voter identification law, which came into force last year. Voters must show a government-issued photo ID at the polls. Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas, said the LGBT advocacy group was concerned that the requirements could prove discriminatory or intimidating for transgender voters. Critics of the law have argued that it could create problems for women who have changed their names and that it discriminates against the poor and ethnic minorities, who are less likely to have ID. State officials have said there has been no evidence of significant problems at the polls.
Perhaps the strangest outcome took place in Kerr County, near San Antonio. The Houston Chronicle reported that Pat Tinley picked up nearly 10% of early votes for the position of county judge despite dying of lung cancer on 7 January.