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GOP: Right vs. Far Right

Dewhurst heads to a run-off, Romney cinches 64%, and other Republican primary news

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., June 1, 2012

District 47 Rep. Paul Workman
District 47 Rep. Paul Workman
Photo by John Anderson

It was the battle of the Establishment vs. the tea party and its corporate backers in the Republican primaries. When the dust cleared, it was unclear who had won.

Local Republicans were closely watching two races, both in Southwest Travis County. First was House District 47, where incumbent Rep. Paul Workman and challenger Ryan Downton had locked into a vicious dogfight over who was the more anti-immigrant. Ultimately Workman smashed Down­ton 2-to-1. The night was not nearly as clear-cut for Sen. Jeff Wentworth: Caught in a three-way race with two ultraconservative favorites – failed congressional candidate Donna Campbell and former Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones – he could only garner 36% of the vote, and now heads into a runoff with Campbell.

The night's big victor, of an anticlimactic sort, was Mitt Romney, who secured his presidential nomination with a 64% share of the Texas primary. However, he was too busy currying favor with Colorado's GOP establishment and dodging questions about Donald Trump's renewed birtherism to make it down to Texas.

The night's big loser was arguably Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, long predicted to be the inevitable successor to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. His establishment position, as well as his ability to loan himself $12 million, should have sealed the deal. Instead, he finds himself in a bitter, unpredictable run-off with former solicitor general Ted Cruz, who had a fraction of Dewhurst's money but a much more active, tea party-fueled ground game.

Statewide, the GOP faced a slew of primary fights spurred by redistricting and often won by the more conservative candidate. Many of the insurgents claimed to be grassroots, but most – including Cruz – had the well-funded Empower Texans in their corner. The conservative think tank, which is closely linked to the hardcore right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (see "ALEC: Daylight on a Fungus," May 4), sank much time and energy into removing House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. And while they failed to dislodge directly the man they see as their liberal nemesis, they did take out several of his key lieutenants, including House Public Education Chair Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands.

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