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What Gov. Greg Abbott and AG Ken Paxton’s endorsement wars could mean for Texas’ GOP primaries

Gov. Greg Abbott is sworn-in during the Oath of Ceremony on Jan. 17, 2023, on the north steps of the Texas State Capitol.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
Gov. Greg Abbott is sworn-in on the north steps of the Texas Capitol on Jan. 17, 2023.

In one of her hit songs, music superstar Taylor Swift sings about how she’s been “dressing for revenge” lately.

Attorney General Ken Paxton is arguably doing the same this year — but through political endorsements instead of pop music.

Paxton was impeached by the Texas House of Representatives in May, but beat all impeachment charges after a September trial held by the Texas Senate.

Post-acquittal, Paxton said he was ready to target his detractors, and he’s making good on those promises. Ahead of Texas’ party primaries on March 5, the AG is going after the Republican incumbents who voted for his impeachment by supporting their challengers.

That includes a special focus on Collin County, his home turf.

In a video ad endorsing one Republican challenger, Paxton says he understands Collin County and finds one its current representatives not just a personal disappointment, but a “disappointment to his county and a disappointment to our state.”

Paxton says these incumbents who voted to impeach should be voted out.

But the state’s top Republican, Gov. Greg Abbott, is on the opposite side. He’s asking Republican voters to support incumbent GOP candidates in their Texas House reelection bids.

In Collin County — which currently has five Republicans in the State House Representative — Paxton has endorsed the primary challengers of four of those lawmakers.

One of the people Paxton is supporting is businessman Wayne Richard, who is running for House District 66.

“The House is a mess,” Richard told The Texas Newsroom. “I was not happy with the fact that our current rep, my opponent, voted to impeach knowing the information was probably not legitimate — rumors and innuendos — so I made a decision to run.”

He’s facing State Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, who has held that seat since 2015.

Richard said Shaheen is no longer the conservative he once was and needs to be fired by voters. He said people in his district want a conservative fighter, not someone who voted to impeach who he calls the “most conservative attorney general this state has ever had.”

Richard said Paxton’s endorsement will help him win.

“You could argue that he’s the most conservative attorney general in the United States,” Richard said. “Do I think it will assist me in my campaign? Absolutely, because my base is conservative.”

But Shaheen, the incumbent, said Paxton’s support for his opponent won’t affect him.

“Ken Paxton is pretty irrelevant when it comes to these campaigns. He’s somebody that’s had a mistress. He’s been accused of taking bribes,” Shaheen told The Texas Newsroom. “So, it’s really not an endorsement that you want, if anything that probably hurts you.

Shaheen said people in the district are worried about the economy and the border — not who Paxton has endorsed.

However, Shaheen is still touting his endorsement from Gov. Greg Abbott.

“It’s a big boost for the campaign, without a question,” Shaheen said. “He’s incredibly popular in the state of Texas broadly, as well with our Republican base. So, it’s a huge help for our campaign.”

Shaheen received Abbott’s endorsement, in part, because he voted for Abbott’s school voucher-like program that ended up failing in the Texas House.

In an email endorsing Shaheen, Abbott said he needs Shaheen “back in Austin to help me carry school choice across the finish line.”

Do political endorsements actually matter?

In every election cycle, endorsements are part of what campaigns use to try to persuade votes.

But how effective are they, really?

Andrea Benjamin, an associate professor in the Clara Luper Department of African and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, said endorsements could influence how someone votes, especially if the voter hasn’t been paying much attention.

“If I have some sort of feeling, or affinity, or likeness, or respect, or trust for the governor, then knowing that he’s endorsed Candidate A could help me say, ‘You know what? Candidate A would probably do the things I agree with, let me vote for Candidate A,’” Benjamin said.

But endorsements could also negatively affect a candidate.

“You could enter that same situation, and be equally uninformed, not paying attention and say, ‘I dislike the governor, so him endorsing candidate A tells me I should vote for candidate B, so that can happen,’” Benjamin said.

Endorsements can also come with financial support, either directly from the endorsee or indirectly via asks for campaign contributions.

Timing is also important. Benjamin said that this moment — before partisan primaries — is when endorsements matter the most.

“Later, there’s no world that we would think Greg Abbott endorsing a Democrat is going to move a Republican, right? We don’t think that’s going to happen at all,” Benjamin said. “So, this is their time to shine.”

Still, Benjamin said incumbents always have a leg up. Their track records and name recognition give them an edge, creating an uphill battle for any challengers.

But that isn’t stopping candidates like Abraham George from trying.

George, the former chairman of the Collin County Republican Party, is running to unseat State Rep. Candy Noble, R-Lucas, of House District 89.

Noble, who didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment, was endorsed by Abbott. George has been endorsed by Paxton.

To actually win, George is betting on his political work in Collin County and support of some of the red-meat policies Republicans there are behind.

“That’s the only thing (that) flips somebody’s mind, especially going against an incumbent,” George said. “That is pretty much the only thing that people would look at and say ‘OK, I can get behind this person.’”

And, George says he will tout his Paxton endorsement too — something he thinks will help.

“We are looking at hard ‘R’ Republican primary [voters],” George said. “The Republicans — very strong conservatives — love him.”

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the former Texas Capitol reporter for The Texas Newsroom.
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