“The leftwing agenda is invading Texas!” the East Texas congressman wrote in a recent post on his campaign’s Facebook page. “From mask mandates, to school board tyrants, to weaponized migration, to courts pushing transgenderism. We need conservative leadership with more grit!”
Over the years, Gohmert has made a name for himself in Congress as a bit of an eccentric. He’s called those locked up over their participation in the Jan. 6 riots “political prisoners.” He’s suggested changing the moon’s orbit as a way to combat climate change.
Gohmert’s also an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump, having filed a lawsuit in an attempt to keep him in power despite Trump’s 2020 electoral loss. And days before the storming of the U.S. Capitol last year, intelligence analysts flagged comments Gohmert made on Newsmax as encouraging violence, according to Politico.
"I think the attorney general’s race is probably going to be more interesting than the governor’s race." – Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, political science professor
Still, Gohmert is attempting to persuade voters that he’s more ethical than the incumbent.
Paxton is running for a third term with multiple blights on his record. He was indicted in 2015 on charges of felony securities fraud, and in October 2020 was accused of bribery by several of his aides, as well as abuse of office.
Now, Paxton is knee-deep in another legal skirmish. On Thursday, the Travis County district attorney found that the embattled attorney general had violated the state’s open records law, according to The Dallas Morning News. He refused to hand over his communications from January 2021, when he’d spoken at a pro-Trump rally ahead of the Capitol insurrection.
Although Gohmert may swing a little further right, he and the incumbent are fairly similar ideologically, said Dr. Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, a political science professor at the University of North Texas. Gohmert will have to work to convince voters who’ve previously gone for Paxton that he’s the better option.
One way to do that is by attacking Paxton on his legal troubles, Eshbaugh-Soha said. Barring a "seismic shift in politics," incumbents typically do well, so Gohmert could underscore the scandals surrounding his primary opponent. Some voters might fear that Paxton's purportedly sketchy past could open the door for a Democrat to take over the AG's office.
Gohmert might get support from voters in his congressional district, but he’s got work to do when it comes to building his brand among non-constituents. “In terms of name recognition alone, people out in Lubbock, unless they watch The Daily Show, which sometimes features Gohmert, or you know, FOX News or whatever, they’re not going to know who he is,” Eshbaugh-Soha said.
Another GOP primary candidate for attorney general, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, could make for a more interesting challenge, Eshbaugh-Soha added. (In October, before Gohmert had announced, 48% of registered voters said they'd opt for Paxton in a Republican primary, with 16% choosing Bush, according to a poll by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune.)
Bush is more of a moderate, so he can differentiate himself more from the incumbent, Eshbaugh-Soha added.
“I think the attorney general’s race is probably going to be more interesting than the governor’s race,” he said. “Because Paxton is, I mean, he’s vulnerable with those scandals, so it’s just a matter of whether voters are going to recoil from Paxton because of that. And if they do, then this opens up an opportunity for somebody else.”