Texas AG Paxton wins GOP runoff


Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton easily won Tuesday’s runoff election over Republican challenger George P. Bush, a sign that the incumbent’s mounting legal problems were of little concern to GOP voters.

Paxton led with a commanding margin in a victory that will push to the political sidelines the only member of the Bush dynasty currently holding public office.

Paxton appears likely to face progressive South Texas Democrat Rochelle Garza in November’s general election. Garza, a former ACLU attorney and political newcomer, was leading former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski in Tuesday’s Democratic runoff, according to unofficial results.

Paxton’s win Tuesday is a major boost for the two-term incumbent, who carried Donald Trump’s endorsement, but still met the most serious challenge of his political career. GOP rivals lined up to oust Paxton, arguing that he was unfit for office while facing six-year-old felony fraud charges and a more recent FBI corruption investigation.

While those legal troubles may have helped push Paxton into his first runoff as an incumbent, GOP voters were willing to overlook them Tuesday.

At a watch party outside Austin, Paxton made no mention of Bush but pledged to fight the Biden administration “tooth and nail” in court.

“This country is in trouble,” he said, standing beside his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton. “The entire reason I decided to run for another term is so we can go fight together.”

Bush, who gave up a third go as the state’s land commissioner to challenge Paxton, didn’t host a public event on election night. While he campaigned on a pledge to restore integrity to the office and prioritize border security, polls consistently saw him trailing Paxton.

In a statement on social media Tuesday, Bush thanked his family and supporters, while acknowledging that “things didn’t go as planned.”

“My message to you is to never stop fighting for a cause that you believe is just,” he said on Twitter. “We will continue fighting for the rule of law in Texas.”

Bush is expected to serve out his term as land commissioner through January. He did not hint at whether he will pursue another run for elected office.

Aiding Paxton on Tuesday was Trump’s support and the fact that his opponent’s well-known family is falling out of political favor. A sizable chunk of GOP primary voters told pollsters that Bush’s last name was enough to go against him.

The nephew of a former president and grandson of another, Bush kept his family and its brand of “compassionate conservatism” at arm’s length on the campaign trail. Even as he embraced Trump and carved a hardline stance on immigration, Bush still struggled to connect with the state’s reddest voters who tend to swing the low-turnout runoffs. Paxton also avoided a public debate with Bush, where the incumbent could face his criticism head on.

During the three-month runoff race the tone quickly turned nasty. Paxton encouraged conservative voters to unite behind him to “end the Bush dynasty.” In his own closing ads, Bush labeled Paxton a “crook” who should be fired.

Money flowed into the contest until the bitter end. Both candidates raised more than $2 million to fund their campaigns, with Bush relying on some family dollars, including a last-minute $25,000 check from his uncle, former President George W. Bush.

Turnout on Tuesday was incredibly low, likely drawing only the most energized GOP voters, which favors Paxton, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston.

“It’s clear that hardcore Republican primary voters are more interested in a candidate who shares their ideology than is electable on paper,” he said. “Republican voters seem willing to risk that they lose in November to support a candidate they know is going to be ideologically committed to things they care about.”

A close ally of Trump, Paxton has seen his national profile grow in recent years by supporting the former president’s failed efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Paxton filed a lawsuit that asked the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate results in four battleground states and spoke at a rally that preceded the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Since Joe Biden arrived in the White House, Paxton has pushed further into the spotlight by filing a flurry of lawsuits against the Democrat’s administration, many of them targeting the lifting of Trump-era immigration policies.

His time as the state’s top lawyer has been dogged by scandal. Soon after taking statewide office, Paxton was indicted on securities fraud charges that are still pending. In late 2020, eight of Paxton’s top staffers accused him of abusing the office to benefit a campaign donor in several legal matters. Their allegations sparked an FBI investigation, a whistleblower lawsuit and a mass exodus from the agency’s senior ranks.

The FBI inquiry has not produced charges, and Paxton denies wrongdoing. He’s pleaded not guilty in the securities fraud case and has yet to go to trial amid procedural wrangling over the venue.

Democrats have seized on Paxton’s legal problems as they try to win back the office after a nearly three-decade lockout. In 2018, Paxton narrowly won re-election against Democrat Justin Nelson, who put the securities fraud charges front and center.

Garza attacked Paxton on Tuesday night, saying he cares more “about lobbyists and donors than the lives of our children.”

“He has abused the AG office for political gain and forgotten the struggles of everyday Texans,” Garza said in a statement.

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