Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is headed to a runoff against George P. Bush
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is headed toward a primary runoff against Land Commissioner George P. Bush, according to Decision Desk HQ.
Paxton, the two-term incumbent, boasted the largest campaign war chest and the support of former President Donald Trump. But in a field of four candidates, he was unable to secure more than 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff election, setting the embattled attorney general on the defensive in the biggest fight of his political life.
Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Bush were neck and neck throughout Tuesday evening, but Bush was able to pull ahead as election day results were tallied. U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler trailed them for much of the night.
At an election night watch party in McKinney on Tuesday night, Paxton acknowledged he was heading toward a runoff race, which is scheduled for May 24, and pitched himself as the candidate against the "establishment."
"May 24 is not that far away. Tomorrow we start 0-0," Paxton told the crowd. "If you want to keep winning for Texas, if you want to be part of saving Texas and saving this country, we're going to have to fight the fight for the next two and a half months, get our vote back out, unite the conservatives."
At Bush's watch party in Austin, he said Republican voters spoke clearly.
"He is going to divert attention away from his legal problems and personal challenges,” Bush said of Paxton. “I’m going to be the most effective to secure the border, back law enforcement and take on issues that we’ve been talking about on this campaign. So he can talk all he wants, but we’re going to have three months to have this debate if he dares leave his basement.”
Bush challenged Paxton to five televised debates across Texas, but said "I suspect that he won't show up to anything."
For months, Paxton’s opponents have blasted him for his legal troubles, which they have flagged as a knock on his integrity and a distraction in his ability to effectively carry out his duties. Eight of Paxton’s former top deputies accused him of bribery and abuse of office, which the FBI is now investigating. Paxton also has been under indictment since 2015 on securities fraud charges. He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
With legal clouds hanging over his candidacy, Paxton is a prime target for Democrats in the general election. His intraparty challengers have said if Paxton wins, the Republicans would essentially hand the general election to Democrats.
Bush pitched himself as the best candidate because of his track record in the private sector, serving in the U.S. military and running a large state agency with 800 employees. Guzman touted her 22 years of legal experience in state courts and questioned Bush’s legal chops, criticizing him for suspending his law license over the last decade.
Gohmert offered voters a candidate whose conservative politics were similar to Paxton’s but without the legal baggage. Both candidates are dedicated acolytes of former President Donald Trump, though Paxton was the one to win his endorsement.
As Election Day neared, Paxton started taking his opponents more seriously as polls revealed uncertainty that Paxton could win outright.
He recognized Gohmert’s threat and began running negative TV ads against him in Gohmert’s home region of East Texas. A week before the election, Paxton ran TV ads that blasted Gohmert for missing hundreds of votes in Congress during his 17 years in office. Gohmert said that criticism showed Paxton’s desperation and aired his own ad accusing Paxton of dishonesty.
Paxton also took out ads against Guzman, painting her as the “most liberal justice on the Texas Supreme Court” and a supporter of critical race theory.
While all four candidates were well-funded, Paxton had the biggest war chest, with $7.5 million on hand at the end of January. Bush, the runner-up in the money race at that time, had $2.6 million. Gohmert had less than $1 million in the bank during the same period.
Guzman also raked in a lot of cash, raising $1 million in 10 days to kick off her campaign. She attracted the support of major political groups like Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which endorsed her in a rare move against an incumbent.