Texas democrats both want and fear more tea party candidates in state elections

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks to a group of people

Tara Bryant

Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott speaks at the 8th Street Coffee House in Wichita Falls
Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott spoke at the 8th Street Coffee House in Wichita Falls. Abbott’s contender for the race in November, Wendy Davis, was quick to link Abbott to the polarizing tea party victors from Tuesday’s primaries. After Tuesday’s results were clear, the Texas Democratic Party released a statement titled “The Tea Party is the Texas Republican Party.” (Bradley Wilson)

AMAN BATHEJA
The Texas Tribune

As the results of Republican primary runoffs began to roll in Tuesday evening, Texas democrats realized they were getting exactly what they wanted — and exactly what they feared.

The victories of Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton were just the highest-profile examples of Republican runoff races in which the candidate who was widely viewed as further right prevailed.

The outcome means democrats will have an easier time contrasting their ticket with the Republican option in November.

“You really can’t have a competitive election that voters pay attention to unless you have a clear contrast between the nominees,” Texas Democratic consultant Harold Cook said. “To the extent you’re going to have a republican opponent, if that opponent can be just as far to the right as possible, that’s just what any Democratic nominee would want.”

Yet, Tuesday’s results also raise the stakes for democrats, who last won a statewide office in Texas 20 years ago. Many democrats fear tea party wins will lead to the passage of even more conservative legislation on immigration, education and access to abortion, some of which their party’s members have managed to block so far.

Public statements by Democratic candidates and campaign officials on Tuesday and Wednesday made their general election strategy clear: consistently frame the Republican ticket as only appealing to a narrow constituency of Texans.
Once the results of most races became clear, the Texas Democratic Party released a statement titled “The Tea Party is the Texas Republican Party.”

Democratic Party spokesman Emmanuel Garcia said: “The days of a pragmatic Texas Republican Party are over.”

In the race for governor, Democrat Wendy Davis was quick to link Greg Abbott, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, with Patrick as a unified campaign.

“It looks like we’ll be seeing a lot of @GregAbbott_TX & @DanPatrick together in the coming months,” Davis tweeted Tuesday night. She and her campaign suggested that Abbott was hesitant to appear in public with Patrick, fearing that a strong affiliation with the talk radio host who has expressed a desire to halt the “illegal invasion” from Mexico will alienate voters, particularly Hispanics.

A statement released by Abbott’s campaign Tuesday evening pushed back against this notion.

“Texas voters have continued to demonstrate their steadfast commitment to the conservative values and initiatives that have and will continue to keep our state on the pathway toward greater opportunity,” Abbott said. “I look forward to working with all Republican nominees as we seek to take Texas to greater heights, and declare victory in November.”

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