Justin Nelson took the opportunity Thursday to put the pressure on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Trailing Paxton by single digits in multiple recent polls in their race for attorney general, the Austin attorney and University of Texas adjunct professor challenged the incumbent to a series of debates.
"You and I both agree that a democracy functions best when voters are informed about the candidates," Nelson said in a letter to Paxton. "I was encouraged by your words to C-SPAN in November, 'I'm happy to debate anybody on the issues, and look forward to it.' This debate program will be one of the best ways that voters across Texas can decide who they want to hire as a lawyer to represent all Texans."
Despite both Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz offering to debate their opponents in the fall — five times, in Cruz's case — Paxton showed no signs of taking the bait from Nelson.
"Attorney General Paxton will communicate directly with the voters about important issues and his outstanding record of accomplishment the past 4 years," his campaign said in a statement Thursday. Now is not the time to turn over the attorney general's office to an unknown liberal democratic [sic, we think] plaintiff trial lawyer who makes a living off destroying small businesses through abusive litigation."
The attorney general's refusal to take Nelson on is indicative of his larger campaign strategy, in which he limits his appearances to friendly partisan environments and avoids the tough questions, Rice University political scientist Mark Jones says.
"Paxton's general election strategy is effectively to go to ground," Jones says, "and make the race as much as possible to be between a Republican, him, and a Democrat, Justin Nelson. The last thing Paxton wants is for this to turn into a Justin Nelson versus Ken Paxton race. If you're Paxton, your strategy, regardless of what anyone says or does, is avoid the media, avoid debates, only appear in very friendly public venues, like tea party meetings, and effectively be as invisible as possible."
Since winning the Democratic primary in early March, Nelson has tried to make it as hard as possible for Paxton to maintain his low profile, repeatedly referencing the fact that the attorney general is still under felony indictment for alleged securities violations.
On June 29, Nelson trolled Paxton with an ad depicting the rest of Texas Republican state leadership ghosting the attorney general during a text message exchange.
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