Embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was forced into a runoff election for the Republican nomination against a member of the Bush political dynasty, setting up a challenging reelection fight for a Donald Trump-backed incumbent.
Paxton, who is embroiled in various ethics scandals, failed to secure 50% of the vote, election night results indicated. He will face second-place finisher George P. Bush, the Texas land commissioner and a son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in the second primary round in May.
The race has been closely watched in Texas, which has some of the earliest primaries of the 2022 midterms. Paxton’s opponents have portrayed him as a liability to Texas Republicans, arguing he could lose the general election to a Democrat. They say Paxton could face an indictment in the coming months stemming from a complaint made by former top aides accusing him of corruption. Paxton emphasizes that he hasn’t been charged in any of his alleged scandals at this time.
“If Ken Paxton is nominated again, we lose to the Democrats,” Bush said at a debate Thursday that Paxton skipped.
Bush and Paxton were also competing against former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and US Rep. Louie Gohmert, but Bush managed to make the case among Paxton’s challengers that he’s the most electable.
Bush’s candidacy was also a test of the waning influence of the Texas Republican dynasty, which has been usurped by brash, right-wing Trumpism. Bush is the nephew of George W. Bush and grandson of the late George HW Bush.
Even though Paxton had Trump’s endorsement, Bush has needed to carry the Trump mantle to make his case to voters. He’s talked, for instance, about “building the wall” and imaginary election fraud on the campaign trail, in an effort to lock down the conservative vote.
Vying now for a third term, Paxton won his second term in 2018 by a much slimmer margin than his first election after he was put under indictment for alleged securities fraud in 2015. That case still hasn’t been resolved.
There’s also a separate FBI investigation into a stunning whistleblower complaint alleging Paxton abused the power of his office, accepted bribes and tampered with government documents to help a donor campaign.
Paxton has denied wrongdoing in both cases.
Paxton made national headlines for legal actions in recent weeks, including suing Joe Biden’s administration over mask mandates on planes and publishing an opinion that pediatric gender-affirming surgery amounts to “child abuse.”
Before speaking at the rally that preceded the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol, Paxton filed suit in a bid to overturn the presidential election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — four battleground states that Biden narrowly won. The US Supreme Court tossed out the lawsuit, saying Texas didn’t have standing to bring the case.
The Four Democrats were also competing this week for their party’s nomination to run for Paxton’s job, with American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Rochelle Garza leading in recent polling.