House Freedom Caucus member Matt Krause challenges Ken Paxton for Texas attorney general

State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, reads proposed legislation while on the House floor on July 29, 2021.

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Attorney General Ken Paxton just got another Republican primary challenger, but this time it is someone who has been close to him for years: state Rep. Matt Krause.

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The Fort Worth lawmaker and founding member of the House Freedom Caucus says he is running as the “faithful conservative fighter,” hoping to bring a similar conservative ideology to the position that Paxton is known for — but without the legal troubles that have dogged him for most of his time in office.

“I think Texas needs — and wants — an attorney general who can give his or her full focus to the job,” Krause said in an interview with The Texas Tribune.

As he seeks a third term next year, Paxton has had to contend with a securities fraud indictment dating to his first months as attorney general in 2015. More recently, he has been under an FBI investigation over claims from his own former deputies that he abused his office to benefit a wealthy donor. He has denied wrongdoing in both instances.

Krause is the third serious primary opponent to announce against Paxton. The field already includes Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Eva Guzman, the former justice on the Texas Supreme Court.

Krause said he is “not sure either one of them could win a primary.”

But the most remarkable aspect of his candidacy may be that unlike Bush and Guzman, Krause has been a friend of Paxton and political ally. They served in the Legislature together from 2013-15, and Krause endorsed Paxton early in the 2014 primary for attorney general.

Krause acknowledged he and Paxton “have been close for years.” But Krause said he ultimately decided to run because he believes the state needs an attorney general who can do the job without distraction, especially as Texas fights the federal government under President Joe Biden.

“It was a difficult part of the conversation,” Krause said of his relationship with Paxton, adding that he reached out to the incumbent ahead of time to notify him of his plans.

Paxton responded to Krause's campaign announcement with a statement touting his tenure — and reminding voters that he has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

"As the values conservative endorsed by President Trump, I am proud of my record standing up to and defeating the Biden Administration — repeatedly," Paxton said. "I stand by my record and values, and ask each voter to join President Trump in standing with me for a safer and stronger Texas."

Krause was a skeptic of Paxton’s indictment when it was issued in 2015, suggesting it could be politically motivated. Krause said in the interview that he has been consistent in saying he wants to let the case play out in the courts, and he still believes that. He otherwise declined to speak in more detail about Paxton’s legal woes, saying he would “focus much more on what our campaign brings than what other campaigns lack.”

Krause is entering a primary that has already been underway for months. Bush announced in early June, and Guzman announced later that month.

Bush has since led the primary field in fundraising, raking in at least $2.4 million. Paxton has raised at least $1.9 million over the same period, and Guzman has collected at least $1.2 million.

The most pressing question of the primary was settled in late July when Trump endorsed Paxton, despite Bush’s appeals to the former president for support.

Krause said Bush and Guzman had the summer to prove themselves as formidable alternatives to Paxton, “and we’re just not seeing that.” Even if they have built fundraising momentum, Krause added, there is “no real strong connection” with rank-and-file conservative voters.

“It was after both of those challengers had got in that I really started getting those calls” asking me to consider running, Krause said.

Bush sought to show his grassroots support Wednesday, announcing a coalition called Tejanos for George P. with over 100 founding members.

"Everyone agrees that Ken Paxton is corrupt," Bush said in a statement responding to Krause's candidacy. "The difference is that I’m the only candidate in this race who has the capability of running a statewide campaign that appeals to conservative voters across the state."

Like Bush, Guzman said Krause's candidacy is more evidence that Texans are ready to move on from Paxton.

"The fact remains that I am the only candidate in this race with the courtroom experience necessary to fight for our state, the integrity to restore Texans’ confidence to the Attorney General’s Office, and the track record of earning historic vote totals in both a primary and general election," Guzman said in a statement.

When it comes to catching up to his opponents in fundraising, Krause conceded he may not be able to match them directly but expressed optimism that he will be competitive. He had a little over $100,000 in his campaign coffers at the end of June.

“While we may not compete dollar-to-dollar, I don’t think a grassroots-type campaign always has to rely on that,” he said.

Krause has represented House District 93 in Fort Worth since 2013. It was one of the districts that Democrats targeted last year in their unsuccessful quest to capture the lower-chamber majority, and Krause won by a comfortable margin.

As an original member of the Freedom Caucus — and currently its secretary and treasurer — Krause has played a role in pushing his party to the right in recent years. During the most recent regular session, he authored legislation that did not pass that would have outlawed gender-affirming health care for transgender children.

Before joining the House, Krause worked as a lawyer for Liberty Counsel, a religious freedom group. He has been licensed to practice law in Texas since 2007.

The Democratic side of the race has drawn at least two candidates: Joe Jaworski, the Galveston lawyer and former mayor of the city, and Lee Merritt, the nationally known civil rights attorney. Merritt was the top fundraiser from either party on the latest campaign finance reports, raising $285,000 from July 7 through Aug. 6. The period covered the launch of Merritt's campaign, which was July 13.

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