For Texas tea partiers, Tuesday’s primary might just be a grim day. Tea party candidates running in federal elections this cycle have struggled to get a foothold in the Lone Star state as the movement turns five.
The best example of the fizzle is one-time conservative favorite Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), who’s run such an incompetent campaign against Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) that even other tea party groups have turned against him.
“I network with over 300 liberty groups in Texas, [and] nobody that I know in the liberty movement went out and recruited Stockman. He just pops out and decided he’s going to run,” tea party activist JoAnn Fleming told TPM. “Well it doesn’t take a whole lot of research before one figures out that Steve Stockman is not someone that you’re going to want to hang your movement on.”
Fleming said that her group instead would back Dwayne Stovall in protest, a candidate whose chances are even worse than Stockman’s and who ran an ad that compared Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to a turtle.
Fleming admitted that while a blowout could happen, the shape of the tea party in Texas suggests that it probably won’t happen this cycle.
The problem is bigger than the Texas Senate race. The only other Texas congressional tea party candidate who has received significant national attention this cycle is Dallas conservative Katrina Pierson, who’s landed some significant endorsements in the tea party world, including Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, an early backing by FreedomWorks, Ted Cruz’s father Rafael and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
But observers don’t expect Pierson to even move to a runoff in her bid for Rep. Pete Sessions’s seat — and Pierson is one of the stronger tea party candidates running at the federal level in Texas this cycle.
“Look, I’m not going to sit here and tell you Katrina Pierson is going to blow out Pete Sessions this time but I do think she is softening up that target,” Fleming said.
The one exception to what is expected to be overall lackluster performance for primary challengers is arguably ex-U.S. attorney John Ratcliffe, one of a handful of candidates running in the primary against 90-year-old incumbent Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX). But Ratcliffe hasn’t been cast as a tea party favorite and identifies as something of a middle-ground candidate.
“My record is one that appeals to tea party conservatives and mainstream Republicans alike,” Ratcliffe said when he announced his candidacy.
Instead, conservative Republicans see their best chances in state and local races. State Sen. Dan Patrick who is running for lieutenant governor and state Sen. Ken Paxton who is running for attorney general both stand a good chance at winning their seats.
Rice University professor Mark Jones told TPM said that the tea party doesn’t “have much going on, given the lack of viable tea party opponents or even the lack of strongly supported tea party candidates in the U.S. Senate race.”
“Other than Katrina Pierson representing a minor nuisance for Rep. Pete Sessions, we don’t really see it at the federal level,” Jones said.