In yet another instance of the Texas Tribune’s poll not being worth the fictional paper it wasn’t printed on, it was State Senator Ken Paxton –not State Representative Dan Branch– who finished in the plurality in the Republican primary for Attorney General. Paxton got 44% of the vote, while Branch got about 33%. Given that the third candidate, Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman, is an ultra-conservative alongside Paxton, the Senator looks ripe to defeat the more establishment Branch in the resulting runoff election. In fact, calls are already abound to force Branch to step aside, much like Harvey Hilderbran did in the race for Comptroller.
Smitherman, for his part, has not endorsed either candidate, though one could not deny that he is more ideologically aligned with Paxton. The office of Attorney General holds a powerful position that looms heavily over the State, as an independent top lawyer for the State with the responsibility to both litigate pertinent suits for the jurisdiction and enforce child support laws. Both Branch and Paxton look to the incumbent, Greg Abbott, as an example for their possible administrations. Abbott has transformed the office from behind-the-scenes technocrat to an upfront counselor constantly getting in high profile spats with the Federal Government.
Blue counties represent those won by Paxton, Green by Branch, Yellow by Smitherman and blacked out counties did not hold Republican primary elections. The map does not make all that much sense, though a few things stood out to me at first.
Obviously, Paxton won the cities and the suburbs, with the notable exception of Travis County. Branch, meanwhile, won most of the counties in the Edwards Plateau as well as the big counties in the Valley (Cameron & Hidalgo) by good margins. Smitherman won a handful of counties here and there, including a notable victory in Nueces County. All “victories,” of course, represent only plurality victories.
These results continue to convince me that the general consensus on the growth of the Tea Party is patently false. Rural areas, sometimes seen as the bread and butter of Republican resurgence, are not really the driving force behind those archconservatives like Paxton or Cruz winning their primaries. It is the suburbs and even the urban counties. Not coincidentally, this mirrors the way Texas originally turned Republican in the first place. Rural areas stayed nominally Democratic into the 21st century, and they still remain more moderate than their suburban compatriots.