Texas' Tea Party Is Alive and Well

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's primary, there was a lot of chatter about how the Tea Party was losing its grip on Texas.

It was a nice thought, that Ted Cruz's antics and the constant demagoguing against the federal government had worn thin, nudging voters back to the middle. It just wasn't true.

Sure, sanity won the day in some of Tuesday's Republican races, with Senator John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions both skating past Tea Party challengers, but that outcome speaks more to the incumbents' staunchly conservative records and weak challengers -- even the Tea Party won't have Steve Stockman -- than to the waning influence of grassroots conservatives.

Look a bit further down the ballot, though, and you'll find that the Tea Party did pretty damn well for itself, protecting the seats its favored candidates won in past races and ousting a handful of incumbents.

State senator and radio host Dan Patrick has a 13-point lead on incumbent David Dewhurst in the lieutenant governor's race and appears poised to trounce him in a runoff. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, the only sane person in the race, came in last. There's a similar picture in the attorney general's race, with Tea Partier Ken Paxton holding a commanding 11-point lead over establishment favorite Dan Branch.

Locally, the biggest statement came when property developer Don Huffines narrowly knocked off John Carona who, for all his conflicts of interest, was a pragmatic and effective lawmaker who amassed a large campaign war chest.

You also had state Representative Jonathan Stickland crushing Andy Cargile, Matt Rinaldi ousting incumbent state Representative Bennett Ratliff, and Bob Hall forcing Greenville state Senator Bob Deuell into a runoff.

This wasn't a total Tea Party victory. It's not the tidal wave of 2010, and there was no Ted Cruz-style prodigy in the mix. But that's all to be expected now that the movement's shiny newness has faded. What Tuesday night proved is that movement conservatives (i.e. Tea Partiers) still wield tremendous influence. Maybe not enough to oust incumbents simply by attaching a Tea Party label, but enough to give them hell.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson