U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert exploring run against Attorney General Ken Paxton in increasingly crowded GOP primary

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, at a 2019 congressional hearing. The Texan has joined a growing list of Republicans seeking to unseat Attorney General Ken Paxton in next year's GOP primary. (Doug Mills/Pool Via Reuters, Doug Mills/Pool Via Reuters)

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U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, is exploring a run for Texas attorney general, weighing a late entry into the already crowded primary to unseat GOP incumbent Ken Paxton. Gohmert said he will run if he can raise $1 million in the next 10 days.

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He announced his plans during an event Tuesday morning in Tyler that was surrounded by confusion. He had been set to make a "very important" campaign announcement there, and while a live broadcast of the announcement did not work, a website surfaced around the same time that claimed he was making an "exploratory" effort in the race. The Texas Ethics Commission said afterward that it received a new campaign treasurer appointment from Gohmert for an attorney general run, one of the first formal steps someone has to take to vie for state office.

According to video of the event, Gohmert repeatedly warned that Paxton's legal problems could jeopardize the attorney general position for Republicans in November.

"We've got to have an attorney general that's undistracted by moral and legal issues of his own and who can get elected a year from now," Gohmert said.

Gohmert said he would be "all in" if he can collect $1 million in contributions by the end of the day on Nov. 19. If he does not, he added, he would run for reelection to his current seat in Texas' 1st Congressional District.

News of Gohmert's potential candidacy comes four days before candidate filing opens for the 2022 primary — and as Paxton already faces three primary challengers well-known in Texas politics. They include Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and state Rep. Matt Krause of Fort Worth.

The website about Gohmert's exploratory effort said Texas needs an attorney general "whose top attorneys working for him have not found it necessary to send a letter to the FBI urging an investigation into corruption of their boss." That is a reference to the FBI probe that Paxton has prompted over claims from former deputies that he abused his office to aid a wealthy donor. Paxton has denied any wrongdoing.

Paxton also has been battling a securities fraud case since his first months in office in 2015. He has denied wrongdoing there as well.

Paxton's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Gohmert's possible challenge.

At least three Democrats are running for attorney general: Joe Jaworski, the Galveston lawyer and former mayor of the city; Lee Merritt, the nationally known civil rights attorney from North Texas; and Rochelle Garza, a former lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union from the Rio Grande Valley. The Democratic Attorneys General Association reveled in the news of Gohmert's potential candidacy, saying in a statement that the primary "is turning into a Texas-sized embarrassment for the Republican Party."

Gohmert is known as one of the most far-right Republicans in the Texas congressional delegation.

A staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, Gohmert filed a far-fetched lawsuit asking former Vice President Mike Pence to challenge Joe Biden’s legitimacy as president-elect. When a federal court tossed the suit, he appeared to propose violence in response, which he later denied.

Days after Gohmert’s comments, a mob of pro-Trump rioters clashed with police, scaled the U.S. Capitol walls and violently forced their way into lawmakers’ offices and onto the floors of the House and Senate. Gohmert was among many Texas Republican political leaders who condemned the Jan. 6 violence without connecting it to their own rhetoric both before and after the 2020 election.

The public rollout of Gohmert's exploratory committee was messy. He had been scheduled to be in Tyler at 11:30 a.m. to make what was billed as a "very important campaign kick-off announcement." Around noon, his campaign's Twitter account tweeted a live broadcast that did not work. After the purported campaign website surfaced on social media, he did not respond to calls and a text message seeking comment.

Gohmert's district's office referred questions about the announcement to a campaign email address, which did not respond to multiple messages.

The URL for the website about the exploratory effort is not the same as one for another Gohmert campaign website, which still says he is running for Congress.

The more recent website says Gohmert "needs 100,000 citizens to send $100 each (or any other amount to get to $1,000,000) by November 19." However, the product of 100,000 and $100 is $10 million, not $1 million.

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