Takeaways From the Texas Primary: Ken Paxton Ousts Some of His Enemies - The World News

Takeaways From the Texas Primary: Ken Paxton Ousts Some of His Enemies

The primary election in Texas on Tuesday was among the most expensive and hard-fought in state history, as factions of the Republican Party battled for control.

It was in large part a referendum on the fate of moderate Republicans in the Texas House, which impeached the Republican attorney general and blocked some hard-right priorities last year.

And as in other parts of the country, many of those Republicans fell on Tuesday to challengers who were more stridently partisan and aligned with former President Donald J. Trump.

While key races like that of the Texas House speaker were heading for a runoff, Tuesday’s vote underscored the enduring power of the Republican base to punish party incumbents seen as insufficiently conservative.

“They are Republicans who said they were conservative and then they didn’t keep their word to the voters,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who backed several challengers, said in an interview late Tuesday in Orange, Texas.

“The Band-Aid is now off,” he added. “From now on, they will be held accountable for their votes.”

Here are four themes that emerged on Tuesday.

The Texas House impeached Mr. Paxton last year. Immediately after his acquittal in the Senate, in a trial presided over by Mr. Patrick, Mr. Paxton vowed retribution.

He was supported in his efforts by a pair of religiously conservative West Texas billionaires, Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, who have long spent significant sums on Texas politics and contributed nearly $4 million during the primary.

Though not all of the many candidates he backed won, Mr. Paxton had reason to celebrate on Tuesday.

He helped force the speaker of the Texas House, Dade Phelan, into a runoff election on May 28 against a first-time candidate, David Covey. It was the only time that had happened in 52 years, according to Mr. Patrick, the lieutenant governor and an ally of Mr. Paxton who has bitterly feuded with Mr. Phelan.

Mr. Paxton also set his sights on remaking the Court of Criminal Appeals, whose elected judges are all Republicans. He opposed three incumbents, criticizing them for their part in an 8-to-1 decision finding that Mr. Paxton could not unilaterally prosecute criminal cases of voter fraud without going through local district attorneys.

Mr. Paxton has been among the more aggressive state officials in backing Mr. Trump’s claims of voter fraud. After the 2020 presidential election, he challenged Mr. Trump’s loss in court, an effort that was ultimately rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Tuesday’s election, two of the three Paxton-backed judicial candidates overcame Republican incumbents by wide margins and a third was heading for victory. The result, if they prevail in the November general election against Democratic opponents, is likely to shift the state’s highest criminal court further to the right and send a signal to judges that the party’s base can be mobilized against them.

“You see that people vote when they’re angry,” said James Pressler, a Republican consultant who worked on several primary campaigns. Some of those targeted, he said, “paid a price for doing what they thought was right.”

The Republican governor, Greg Abbott, notched several wins in his aggressive, statewide campaign for private school vouchers.

While vouchers have been generally popular among conservative Republicans, the issue is more complicated in rural Texas, where the public schools and their sports teams are an important anchor of local economies and public life.

Several Republicans balked at diverting money from the public schools, and many of them found themselves targeted by the governor during their re-election bids. And not just Mr. Abbott: The pro-voucher campaign received backing from national supporters of voucher programs, including a $6 million contribution from a Pennsylvania billionaire, the largest in Texas history, and the Club for Growth, an influential conservative anti-tax group that spent nearly $4 million, mostly on television ads.

Those efforts appeared to have paid off. In 14 races where either Mr. Abbott’s campaign or the Club for Growth spent heavily, only two incumbents emerged from Tuesday victorious. The others either lost or were heading for runoffs.

“The message politically is you can’t call yourself a conservative if you oppose school choice,” said David McIntosh, the group’s president. “If this succeeds in Texas, we think it will have a big impact all over the country.”

Colin Allred, a Dallas-area congressman and former pro football player, handily defeated a crowded field to win the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. He will take on Senator Ted Cruz in November.

Mr. Allred’s closest challenger was State Senator Roland Gutierrez, who ran an aggressive, angry campaign on the issue of gun control and the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in 2022.

In the end, it was Mr. Allred’s promises of bipartisanship and ability to work with Republicans in Washington that won the day — plus he raised a lot more money than anyone else.

“I want every Texan to know,” Mr. Allred said in his victory speech on Tuesday, “that whether you’re a Democrat, an independent or a Republican, I want you to be involved in this campaign, and I want to serve you in the United States Senate.”

Kim Ogg, the Democratic district attorney in Harris County, lost by roughly 50 percentage points to a first-time candidate who challenged her from the left. It was an unusually emphatic defeat for a politician seeking her third term in office.

Ms. Ogg was elected in 2016, the first time a Democrat had become district attorney in Houston in decades, and she was seen as part of a wave of progressive prosecutors winning elections around the country. But over time, she angered many Democrats who said she had failed to adopt reforms to the criminal justice system that many in the party had hoped to see.

Critics also accused her office of attacking fellow Democrats and working with Republicans to undermine the county’s popular top executive, Lina Hidalgo, the county judge.

While some progressive district attorneys around the country have faced pushback over rising crime, Democratic activists in Houston mobilized opposition from the left, and Ms. Ogg lost to a former prosecutor in her office, Sean Teare.

Mr. Teare promised to lessen punishments for low-level offenses while, at the same time, aggressively prosecuting violent offenders.

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