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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton could be headed for a runoff, early returns show

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton could be headed for a primary runoff, with nearly half the votes counted late Tuesday, according to Decision Desk HQ.

In a field of four candidates, not enough Texas Republican primary voters appear convinced that the two-term incumbent should remain the Republican’s candidate for the job. That could put the embattled attorney general on the defensive in the biggest fight of his political life.

Candidates Eva Guzman, a former Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Land Commissioner George P. Bush are neck and neck in their own fight to determine who will come out in second place. U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler trails behind in fourth. Candidates must receive more than 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff election.

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For months, Paxton’s opponents have blasted him for his legal troubles, which they have flagged as a knock on his integrity and a distraction in his ability to effectively carry out his duties. Eight of Paxton’s former top deputies accused him of bribery and abuse of office, which the FBI is now investigating. Paxton also has been under indictment since 2015 on securities fraud charges.

With legal clouds hanging over his candidacy, Paxton is a prime target for Democrats in the general election. His intraparty challengers have said if Paxton wins, the Republicans would essentially hand the general election to Democrats.

Bush, the state land commissioner, pitched himself as the best candidate because of his track record in the private sector, serving in the U.S. military and running a large state agency with 800 employees. Guzman, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, touted her 22 years of legal experience in state courts and questioned Bush’s legal chops, criticizing him for suspending his law license over the last decade.

Gohmert offered voters a candidate whose conservative politics were similar to Paxton’s but without the legal baggage. Both candidates are dedicated acolytes of former President Donald Trump, though Paxton was the one to win his endorsement.

As election day neared, Paxton started taking his opponents more seriously.

He recognized Gohmert’s threat and began running negative TV ads against him in Gohmert’s home region of East Texas. A week before the election, Paxton ran TV ads that blasted Gohmert for missing hundreds of votes in Congress during his 17 years in office. Gohmert said that criticism showed Paxton’s desperation and aired his own ad accusing Paxton of dishonesty.

Paxton also took out ads against Guzman, painting her as the “most liberal justice on the Texas Supreme Court” and a supporter of critical race theory.

While all four candidates were well-funded, Paxton had the biggest war chest, with $7.5 million on hand at the end of January. Bush, the runner-up in the money race at that time, had $2.6 million. Gohmert had less than $1 million in the bank during the same period.

Guzman also raked in a lot of cash, raising $1 million in 10 days to kick off her campaign. She attracted the support of major political groups like Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which endorsed her in a rare move against an incumbent.

Disclosure: Texans for Lawsuit Reform has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/03/01/texas-attorney-general-election-ken-paxton/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Article Topic Follows: Campaign 2022

Texas Tribune

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