The Austin Chronicle

Tea Party Takes Run-offs

By Richard Whittaker, August 3, 2012, News

The Texas political establishment took a Tea Party pummeling in the July 31 primary run-offs, as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst lost the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate to former Solicitor General Ted Cruz. But that was just the start of a bad night for longtime Republican office holders.

Cruz, who portrayed himself as a grassroots anti-incumbent Tea Partier, handed the lieutenant governor a devastating loss, 57% to 43%. Dewhurst's campaign had turned nasty in its closing weeks, connecting Cruz to everything from Chinese corporate crime to prison bribery scandals. However, with reality TV star Sarah Palin, cash-for-gold shill Glenn Beck, and former Carolina Congressman Jim DeMint's massive FreedomWorks PAC in his corner, Cruz painted the lieutenant governor as a weak moderate. In November he takes on veteran state lawmaker Paul Sadler. The Democrat finally saw off retired schoolteacher Grady Yarbrough but faces an uphill climb to beat Cruz – a climb so steep it looks like a cliff face.

More predictable was the exit of Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, who suffered a Tea Party-fueled loss to Donna Campbell. She'll face former Alamo Community College District trustee John Courage in the district, running from Bexar County to southwest Travis.

Not that negativity worked everywhere. The Democratic Travis County Precinct 2 Con­stable race could have taught Cruz and Campbell a lesson in meanness, with challenger Michael Cargill and his allies in Texans for Accountable Government dubbing incumbent Adan Ballesteros the "cocaine constable." Ballesteros beat him with 62% of the vote.

So who was the big loser in the July 31 run-offs? Gov. Rick Perry. Even though he was not on the ballot, his endorsements counted for little. He backed Dewhurst to little avail, and Supreme Court Justice David Medina lost out to radical pro-lifer David Devine. Nor could Perry save veteran state reps Sid Mil­ler and Chuck Hopson from Tea Party wrath, as both men took a hammering for their perceived allegiance to another establishment Republican, speaker Joe Straus. Perry could take a little comfort that former Secretary of State Roger Williams beat libertarian Wes Riddle to take the nomination in Congres­sion­al District 25, running from Travis County north to Johnson.

The results leave plenty of blood in the water, and the sharks are already circling. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has already released a statement confirming that he will challenge a weakened Dewhurst in 2014 for lieutenant governor. Similarly, Democrats are banking on moderates starting to pull away from an increasingly radicalized GOP and giving them more opportunities in 2014. For now, Texans must suffer a 2013 legislative session with a Tea Party agenda, a speaker under siege, and a badly bruised governor and lieutenant governor.

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