Texas: Reports of Tea Party death have been exaggerated

George P Bush at a campaign stop in El Paso, Texas on 3 March Image copyright AP
Image caption Another Bush, George P, arrives on the political scene in Texas

Texas held its primary balloting on Tuesday, as voters braved icy weather to head to the polls to choose the Republican and Democratic nominees for the general election in November.

Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis cruised to wins, setting up a big-spending fall showdown for the governor's office.

The Texas Tribune's Jay Root and Alexa Ura give a rundown of what to expect from the two candidates:

Abbott has framed the race as a Texas-versus-Washington proxy battle, noting his many lawsuits against the Obama administration as attorney general and never missing the opportunity to associate Davis with the Democratic president…

Davis has portrayed Abbott as politically extreme and out of touch with ordinary Texans. She has tried to hang unpopular education cuts around his neck, urging him to use his power as attorney general to settle an ongoing school finance lawsuit rather than fight it out in court.

George P Bush, son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and grandson of President George HW Bush, won his lightly contested primary contest for the Republican nomination for state land commissioner. It's the first political race for the 37-year-old attorney, whose mother is from Mexico.

"Bush ran, as you would expect, a boring, no-risk campaign, coasting to victory on his family name and connections," writes the Texas Observer's Forrest Wilder. "He gave up few substantive political beliefs and generally avoided the media."

Perhaps most notable were the comfortable victories of two high-profile Republican incumbents, Senator John Cornyn and Representative Pete Sessions. Some had predicted the candidates would face a tougher road.

Two years ago, political pundits were shocked when a little-know state solicitor general, Ted Cruz, defeated deep-pocketed establishment-backed Lt Governor David Dewhurst in the race for an open seat in the US Senate.

Mr Cruz's victory in the primaries and general election while espousing a full-throated, confrontational conservative rhetoric was heralded as a crowning achievement for the grassroots conservative Tea Party. The loosely organised movement had come to prominence by railing against President Barack Obama's policies but often turned its sights on insufficiently pure Republican politicians as well.

Mr Cornyn's and Mr Sessions's comfortable wins prompted speculation that perhaps the Tea Party movement was losing steam in one of its most sympathetic states.

"Texas G.O.P. Beats Back Challengers From Right," headlined a New York Times article on the electoral results.

"If the Republican Senate primary in Texas is a lesson in one thing, it is that not every tea party candidate can catch grass-roots lightning in a bottle and catapult to the US Senate," writes Lauren Fox for US News. "It takes a special set of circumstances to be Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and it looks like, at least for now, he's the only Senate Cinderella story in Texas."

Politico's Alex Isenstadt writes that the combination of Mr Obama's unpopularity in the state and an "older and whiter" electorate for non-presidential contests should have given the Tea Party candidates more of a boost.

"The Texas tea party's struggles in a Republican year is a disappointment and, some say, reflects a deeper concern: that the once all-powerful movement isn't as organized or effective as it once was," he writes.

He later posits that the establishment candidates have "learned how to tame conservative rabble-rousers":

In 2010, GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was blown out in governor's race against [Rick]Perry, who embraced the tea party label while casting his opponent as a too-moderate Washington insider. Since then, many congressional lawmakers have adopted tea party rhetoric in order to inoculate themselves from similar attacks.

A closer look at the election results reveal that the Tea Party had a pretty good day, however. The aforementioned Mr Dewhurst took it on the chin yet again, this time in his re-election bid for what is considered the most powerful office in the state, lieutenant governor.

He trailed firebrand conservative radio host Dan Patrick 42% to 28%, forcing a May runoff, where low turnout usually favours the candidate with more appeal to hard-core conservative activists.

"Many political scientists and consultants believe that Patrick - whose campaign included fierce promises to 'stop the invasion' from Mexico - will be the easiest Republican for a Democrat to beat," writes the Houston Chronicle's Patricia Kilday Hart. "To win that tea party support, he staked out far right positions on abortions, tuition for children of immigrants and a host of other social conservative issues."

In the attorney general race and state legislative seats, many incumbent or establishment politicians lost or are headed to runoffs against grassroots-backed candidates. Amy Kremer, the head of a Tea Party Express, says this shows the movement is "alive and well".

"Tea Party candidates won big on the local and state level, and while the tea party lost one congressional race, there was no serious primary challenge in the Senate race," she told CNN. "Also, Ted Cruz endorsed five candidates, with four of them winning and one heavily favoured in a runoff. With that, Texas didn't let us down."

"National reporters may have looked at the top-line Texas results and concluded it was a rebuke of the Tea Party," writes the National Review's John Fund. "But locals know better."

All of this has the Dallas Morning News's Tod Robberson, a self-proclaimed centrist, lamenting the state's primary system:

In several races, we are going to wind up with an arch-conservative tea party type who wins the primary and will represent the GOP in the general election. And he or she will wind up vying against a hard-left Democrat. It'll be the worst choice to put before voters. But that will be the choice because those two candidates will have done the best job of appealing to the extremists and die-hards within their respective parties. The winner will go to Austin or Washington and probably will do an abysmal job. And then we'll repeat this same process in another two years, adding yet another batch of abysmal, extremist performers to the mix.