By James Barragán, The Texas Tribune
Embattled incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton beat out Land Commissioner George P. Bush on Tuesday in the Republican primary runoff as Texas GOP voters picked a beleaguered candidate with legal and personal scandals over the last remaining Bush to serve in public office. Decision Desk called the race early for Paxton, about 40 minutes after polls closed.
Paxton has faced a securities fraud indictment for seven years. More recently, the FBI began investigating him for abuse of office after eight of his former top deputies accused him of bribery. He also reportedly had an extramarital affair. Paxton denies all wrongdoing.
Bush, who has served for seven years as the state’s land commissioner, campaigned on restoring integrity to the attorney general’s office and hit Paxton for his legal and ethical troubles. He also criticized Paxton’s legal acumen, saying some of his lawsuits were frivolous, including one that he filed to overturn the 2020 results in four battleground states where former President Donald Trump lost.
But none of Bush’s attacks gained traction with socially conservative voters in the runoff, who said they preferred Paxton’s combative style to Bush’s more civil and polished approach. Voters cited Paxton’s frequent lawsuits against the Biden administration on immigration and COVID-19 policies, as well as his efforts on hot-button social issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights.
While Bush had supporters who embraced his vision of a more diverse Republican Party that welcomed people of different viewpoints, a majority of voters tied him to his family’s center-right, pro-business politics. That approach is not conservative enough for today’s Texas GOP, which has largely turned against establishment candidates. His opponents rallied around a call to “end the Bush dynasty” and lambasted Bush for his rightward shift during the campaign.
In the lead-up to the runoff, Bush said he supported state investigations into families that provided gender-affirming health care to transgender children, and he made border security a priority issue.
Paxton hit Bush for his change of tone, resurfacing 2014 comments from Bush in which he expressed support for the Texas Dream Act, a 2001 law that allows undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition at public universities. Bush now says he supports the Republican Party of Texas’ platform to repeal the law.
The race was also noteworthy for its negative campaigning. Paxton’s camp created an attack website titled GeorgePBushFacts.com that denounced him as a “RINO establishment darling who has sold out Texas” and hit him for his office’s management of Hurricane Harvey relief funds and its handling of the redevelopment of the Alamo.
Bush struck back with KenTheCrook.com, which proclaimed “it’s time to fire Ken Paxton” and detailed several legal and ethical issues that have plagued Paxton, including the FBI investigation, his securities fraud case, and his reported extramarital affair.
But none of the attacks stuck to Paxton, who continued campaigning with socially conservative groups while avoiding head-to-head encounters with Bush where he could expose himself to attack.
Bush, who had challenged Paxton to five debates in the runoff and pledged to take the battle to the incumbent, was frustrated in his attempts to draw out Paxton. He also received no help from the two defeated candidates in the Republican primary, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, who refused to endorse in the race.
Things got worse for Bush as a slew of GOP officeholders, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, released their endorsements of Paxton. Bush had been fighting an uphill battle since last year when Trump rebuffed his request for an endorsement and instead sided with Paxton.
Paxton never took his foot off the pedal, continuing to file immigration lawsuits against the Biden administration and wading into legal battles over LGBTQ rights during the campaign. He frequently went on cable news shows to attack the Biden administration’s policies and lumped in Bush as the state’s “liberal land commissioner” with a “woke” agenda.
Paxton also fought back against those who questioned his ethics or legal acumen. When the state bar announced it was investigating a complaint against him for professional misconduct, Paxton called it a political attack and denounced the members of the disciplinary committee looking into the complaint as “leftist” Democratic sympathizers.
As the runoff election neared, polls showed Paxton with a strong lead over Bush. One poll found that 40% of Republican primary voters said they would never vote for Bush.
Paxton closed out the campaign confidently, attending packed meetings of conservative voters. Bush released a late flurry of negative attack ads against Paxton but did not gain the boost he needed.
Last week, Bush’s camp told reporters it would not have media availability on Election Day, a clear sign it did not expect a positive outcome. Paxton’s team, meanwhile, planned an election day watch party just north of Austin.
Paxton will face the winner of the Democratic runoff – either Brownsville lawyer Rochelle Garza or former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworksi – in the November general election, where the odds are in his favor, as no Democrat has won a statewide seat in Texas since 1994.
“Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton easily defeats George P. Bush in GOP primary runoff” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.