Last week, the Republican establishment drubbed tea party candidates in several states, but it was a different story on Tuesday. The conservative wing of the party won a string of local and statewide runoffs in Texas, proving it is still a dominant force in some parts of the country.
Texas state Sen. Dan Patrick soundly defeated Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, whose 11-year tenure included economic prosperity and GOP dominance at the ballot box. Both Dewhurst and Patrick had some tea party support, but it was Patrick, a former Houston talk show host, who founded the state’s tea party caucus and appealed more to Texas conservatives. Although it was a bitter, expensive campaign, the results were not close: Patrick captured 65 percent of the vote.
“For everyone watching tonight, if you love America, the Constitution, Texas, free markets, the Second Amendment and the liberty that comes from God, welcome to the grassroots of the Republican Party,” Patrick said during his acceptance speech in Houston.
Texas Democrats last won a statewide elected office in 1994, making most elections a battle of conservatism between Republicans. Dewhurst, first elected in 2002, found that out the hard way in 2012, when he unexpectedly lost his U.S. Senate bid to former solicitor general Ted Cruz in a GOP primary runoff. Cruz, 43—who has since become the face of Texas conservatives—successfully labeled Dewhurst as a moderate Republican, and Dewhurst never recovered.
Patrick will face Democrat Leticia Van de Putte in November in a battle to become the state’s second in command. Attorney General Greg Abbott, whom WORLD profiled earlier this month, is expected to easily beat state Sen. Wendy Davis in the governor’s race.
In the high-profile race to replace Abbott as attorney general, tea party-backed state Sen. Ken Paxton defeated state Rep. Dan Branch, whom most conservatives viewed as an establishment candidate.
Wendy Davis’ senate seat also was on the line Tuesday, and tea party candidate Konni Burton easily claimed the Republican nomination with 60 percent of the vote. Burton, whom Ted Cruz endorsed, is the favorite to retake the seat for Republicans and give the party a possible super-majority in the Texas Legislature.
Davis became a national pro-abortion star when she filibustered a 20-week abortion ban last year, but many accused her of not accurately representing her district. In her victory speech, Burton promised not to betray voters: “One thing that you all can rest assured with is the conservative principles that I run on in this race, I will legislate on down in the state capitol.”
The oldest member of Congress, Republican Rep. Ralph Hall, 91, also lost his bid for a 19th term to John Ratcliffe, another tea party favorite. Ratcliffe, 48, made Hall’s age an issue and in campaign ads suggested he was no longer fit to serve in Congress.
Hall, a former Democrat, first ran for office in 1949. His defeat means the nation will no longer have a World War II veteran serving in Congress, come January. Hall and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who is planning to retire at the end of his term, are the final two.
Hall said he wanted one final term to see the end of the Obama era and help bring a Republican back to the White House. He became the first incumbent U.S. House member to lose to a tea party candidate this year.