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These two Republicans endorsed in dozens of Texas House races. One put his money where his mouth is.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, right, are split on who should win 24 Texas House races this year.
Gabriel C. Pérez
KUT News
Gov. Greg Abbott, shown here, and Attorney General Ken Paxton are split on who should win 24 Texas House races this year.

The Republican primary election in Texas this year has been particularly rancorous.

With no limits on campaign contributions, millions of dollars have flowed into the coffers in the most contentious races. On March 5, voters will decide who wins the Republican and Democratic primaries and advances to the November general election.

For two of the state’s top Republicans — Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton — the battle lines are being drawn around school vouchers and impeachment.

The governor is backing supporters of a school voucher-like program, a pitch to let parents use taxpayer money for the private education of their kids, and he is hoping to oust Republicans who did not back the program during the 2023 legislative session. The attorney general is supporting GOP challengers to the lawmakers who voted to impeach him last year. He beat the corruption charges against him and launched a revenge tour soon after.

All 150 members of the Texas House are up for re-election this year.

Paxton has endorsed close to 50 GOP hopefuls for these seats, and Abbott has thrown his support to 78 candidates. They are backing 14 of the same primary candidates for the Texas House.

But in two dozen other House races, they are split, with Abbott backing one Republican and Paxton the other. The divide is unusual, lawmakers at the center of the fight said, underscoring the bitterness of this year’s primary election.

The biggest difference between the two men’s support?

Abbott is backing up his endorsements with cold, hard campaign cash. House Speaker Dade Phelan and the political action committee associated with Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which advocates for legislation protecting businesses from litigation, also gave big to the candidates Abbott is backing in these races.

Paxton, meanwhile, is banking that his endorsement is enough to sway voters.

The attorney general has not contributed to the campaigns of the dozens of candidates he has endorsed. In fact, much of the campaign cash he’s spent since last summer went to lawyers who defended him against impeachment.

This leaves his preferred candidates searching for cash elsewhere — either in their own pockets or among the political action committees, or PACs, that opposed impeachment.

The results in these two dozen races will prove whose endorsement carries the most weight. The contests will also test the popularity of Abbott’s policy priorities among Republican voters in rural districts.

Paxton did not return multiple requests to discuss his endorsements and campaign contributions — or lack thereof. Abbott’s longtime political consultant Dave Carney said the governor based his endorsements on which candidates would be best for the district, run a serious campaign and support his agenda of “border security, property tax reductions and parental rights.”

“No outside factors were weighed one way or the other,” Carney said.

Abbott picks also backed by influential PAC

One of the most interesting races where this split is on display is the fight for House District 11, which starts in Panola and Rusk Counties in East Texas and snakes along the Louisiana border ending all the way down near Orange.

Joanne Shofner, who is challenging incumbent Travis Clardy, has gotten significant backing from Abbott.

There are no limits on campaign contributions for legislative races. This means moneyed donors, PACs and elected officials can (and have) funneled millions of dollars ahead of the primary election.

The governor’s campaign gave hundreds of thousands in non-monetary contributions to Shofner since the end of January, according to her last campaign report, including $251,000 for advertising. He said Shofner will vote for his school voucher program if she’s elected.

Shofner is one of only two challengers the governor has endorsed in the two dozen races in which Abbott and Paxton are backing different candidates, and the only challenger TLR has backed this year. Texans for Lawsuit Reform’s PAC also gave her a $100,000 campaign contribution, plus more than $566,000 in advertising and polling last month alone, according to that same report.

In the final days leading up to Tuesday’s election, Abbott and TLR funneled even more support to Shofner, including a $50,000 contribution from the PAC.

A map showing Texas House District 11, which starts in Panola and Rusk Counties in East Texas and snakes along the Louisiana border ending all the way down near Orange.
Texas Redistricting Committee
Texas Redistricting Committee
Rep. Travis Clardy, R- Nacogdoches, is fighting to keep his seat representing House District 11. Clardy, who voted against Gov. Greg Abbott's school voucher legislation, is backed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Republican challenger Joanne Shofner has Abbott and Donald Trump's endorsements, and has raised big money from the governor and influential PACs.

Paxton was once a top recipient of TLR’s contributions. But the group hasn’t given him a dime since 2019. He accused TLR’s leadership of helping support and further his impeachment, which they have denied.

Lucy Nashed, TLR’s communications director, said the group’s endorsements were decided solely by who supported their policy agenda.

“Impeachment was not a factor in TLR PAC’s decisions of which candidates to support because we had nothing to do with Ken Paxton’s impeachment,” Nashed told The Texas Newsroom.

In fact, this election season TLR PAC also contributed to more than a half dozen House members who voted against impeaching Paxton, including some of the attorney general’s staunchest allies.

Making the House District 11 race even more interesting are Shofner’s other endorsements. Former president Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, with whom Paxton is usually in lock step, are also backing her.

Paxton is backing Clardy, who voted against impeaching him, but has not donated to his campaign.

Clardy said he appreciates the attorney general’s endorsement and did not ask him for money. He blasted TLR, whose legislation he regularly opposes, and said House races are meant to be local but have become sullied by wealthy donors who don’t live in the district.

“We will spend more money in this campaign than I’ve spent in all campaigns combined,” Clardy told The Texas Newsroom.

Clardy was part of a group of rural Republicans who voted against vouchers because they believe the program would siphon funding from public schools that need the cash more. He said the governor is targeting him because their vote sounded the death knell for the governor’s signature legislation last session.

“That’s my sin,” said Clardy.

Abbott hopes to oust them and revive the legislation.

Going into the home stretch before the March 5 primary, Shofner is at a huge cash advantage. In her last report, she raised more than $822,000 — a massive amount for a statehouse challenger by any metric. She has more than $68,000 left to spend.

Clardy raised nearly $300,000, and spent even more than that.

He is backed by the PAC representing the Las Vegas Sands corporation, which wants to legalize casino gambling in Texas. He also got cash from the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, which is frequently at odds over policy with TLR, and a pro-public education PAC formed by H-E-B founder Charles Butt.

Clardy brought in several 11th hour contributions including another $25,000 from the Butt PAC.

Shofner was unavailable for an interview.

Paxton picks turn to self-funding, new PAC

No equivalent to TLR PAC is throwing large sums of money at the 24 candidates Paxton backs and the governor opposes.

The only political action committee contributing much of anything to them is Texans United for a Conservative Majority, which has spent more than $3 million since it was formed.

The PAC is being funded primarily by Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, the same West Texas oil billionaires who backed Defend Texas Liberty, a PAC that went dark after its leader met white supremacist Nick Fuentes last fall.

A top recipient of this PAC’s money is David Covey, who wants to oust House Speaker Dade Phelan. Paxton and his allies have targeted the Republican speaker, who represents a teardrop-shaped district stretching from Jasper to Port Arthur, for supporting impeachment.

While fighting for his own re-election, Phelan has put up his money to back other GOP incumbents aligned with him. In fact, his campaign spending has topped nearly $4 million since last summer. He’s backing many of the House candidates Paxton opposes.

In the run up to the Tuesday election, Dunn dumped another $700,000 into the PAC.

Mitch Little, one of Paxton’s defense attorneys who is running to represent House District 65 sandwiched between Denton Flower Mound, got $200,000 in advertising from the PAC last week. The PAC also came to the aid of GOP challengers Wes Virdell and Caroline Fairly.

Abbott and Paxton are both backing Fairly, while they’re split on the District 65 seat. Abbott is backing incumbent Kronda Thimesch in that race.

Many of Paxton’s picks who did not get help from the new Dunn and Wilks PAC have struggled to put up big fundraising numbers. Several have self-funded their bids.

A map showing Texas House District 68, which curls around Fort Worth from McKinney to Killeen
Texas Redistricting Committee
Texas Redistricting Committee
Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, is fighting to keep his seat representing House District 68 in North Texas. He has drawn Kerri Kingsbery as a challenger. Spiller, who helped prosecute Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in his impeachment trial, is backed by Gov. Greg Abbott. Kingsbery is backed by Paxton.

Rep. David Spiller, who represents a C-shaped district that curls around Fort Worth from north of Denton to near Killeen, has drawn one of these challengers. Local business owner Kerri Kingsbery has questioned Spiller’s conservative bonafides, and criticized his choice to serve on the impeachment team that prosecuted Paxton for corruption.

But she has struggled to raise money. On her last report, Kingsbery brought in just $13,620. She has about $15,000 left to spend going into primary election day.

Kingsbery told The Texas Newsroom she is “running to bring honesty and integrity” back to the House, and pointed out she’s also been endorsed by Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and pro-gun and anti-vaccine advocacy groups.

“It would have been nice to have financial support from Ken Paxton but I believe we've done a good job with the resources we have," Kingsbery said.

Spiller, who said he would support a “limited” voucher program that doesn’t hurt public schools, has Abbott and Phelan’s support. The governor gave him nearly $32,000 in non-monetary contributions, like polling and canvassing, since the end of January. TLR PAC has also been a top donor.

Spiller had more than $500,000 left to spend on this last report.

He said he was not surprised Paxton backed his opponent, and hopes the attorney general turns his attention away from targeting fellow Republicans and back to the Biden administration’s policies.

This election is unprecedented, in his experience, with Trump and statewide officials weighing in on so many GOP House primaries. The tenor of the current political situation makes him ready for anything.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen like what we have going on now,” Spiller said. “Nothing really surprises me at this point.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Gov. Greg Abbott has endorsed Wes Virdell.

Lauren McGaughy is an investigative reporter and editor at The Texas Newsroom. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X and Threads @lmcgaughy.