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Attorney General Ken Paxton and his three Republican primary challengers are firing in all directions in the final days before the closely watched election.
Paxton is airing TV ads attacking U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler over his attendance record in Congress, while Gohmert is countering with his own commercial accusing Paxton of desperation. Meanwhile, Land Commissioner George P. Bush is running TV ads targeting Eva Guzman, the former state Supreme Court justice, who says Bush’s claims are “ludicrous.”
It is all making for a hectic end to the hotly contested primary, which recent polls suggest could go to a runoff. The polls have been less clear, though, on who Paxton could face in an overtime round. The election is March 1.
During a campaign stop Tuesday in Tyler, Bush reportedly proclaimed that he is heading to a runoff with Paxton, though his campaign now has Guzman in its crosshairs. His latest TV spot accuses her of a cardinal sin in today’s GOP politics: opposing a border wall.
But Guzman is crying foul. She has long supported a wall in her campaign.
In the new 15-second commercial from Bush, a narrator says Guzman “opposes George P. Bush’s plan to finish [former President Donald] Trump’s wall, calling it a ploy.” Bush’s campaign said the claim is based on a mailer that Guzman recently sent out, quoting a December article from The Texas Tribune that said Bush’s “border security strategy appears to be a ploy to score points with immigration hardliners who often swing the Republican primaries.”
But that was a reference to Bush’s prioritization of border security in his campaign, not any plan to finish the wall.
“From the moment I stepped off the Supreme Court and have been able to share policy positions, I have been unequivocal in my plan to use my legal experience to secure the border, and that includes building the wall,” Guzman said. “It’s been on my website and I mention it in every speech I give.”
On her website, Guzman has a two-page border-security plan. The first bullet point is “Build the wall.”
Asked for comment on the ad, Bush’s campaign doubled down on the core accusation and criticized Guzman on several other fronts. Bush said in a statement that Guzman “has done nothing but launch personal attacks against me during this race.” Guzman has hounded Bush over his decision to classify his law license as inactive from 2010 until 2020, which he has brushed off as an irrelevant formality while he has led the General Land Office.
As land commissioner, Bush has had a visible role in Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to finish Trump’s wall. In November, he authorized construction of the state-funded border wall on state-owned land and appeared alongside Abbott at the wall’s debut the next month.
All the GOP candidates for attorney general are pitching themselves as tough on the border. It has been the sole subject of Bush’s TV ads, which highlight his endorsement from the National Border Patrol Council. Gohmert has been talking about how he helped build Trump’s wall by voting for it as a congressman. And Guzman has been running a TV ad in which she says her father was “killed by an illegal immigrant who disappeared and was never brought to justice.”
Then there is Paxton, who has Trump’s endorsement and is running on his legal battles with President Joe Biden over the border, among other issues. Paxton’s TV ads tout his lawsuit last year that temporarily blocked the Biden administration’s 100-day freeze on deportations of some undocumented immigrants.
Border issues remain a high priority for Texas Republicans. In a University of Texas poll released last week, 58% of Republicans called either border security or immigration the most important problem facing Texas today.
All of Paxton’s primary foes have been assailing his ethics and integrity since the beginning of their campaigns. The incumbent has been under indictment on securities fraud charges since 2015 and more recently came under FBI investigation over claims by former deputies that he abused his office to help a wealthy contributor. Paxton has denied wrongdoing in both cases.
As for Paxton and Gohmert, the attorney general continues to go after the congressman’s attendance record, saying he has missed over 800 votes during his 17 years in Congress. Paxton’s campaign has concentrated the attacks in Gohmert’s native East Texas, where Paxton himself has acknowledged Gohmert’s support is the strongest.
Gohmert has missed 840 of 11,538 roll-call votes from January 2005 through February 2022, according to Gov Track. That absent rate — 7.3% — is “much worse than the median of 2.1% among the lifetime records of representatives currently serving,” according to the website.
“If you pay a man to do a job, you expect him to show up for work,” a narrator says in Paxton’s latest anti-Gohmert commercial. “So why are we paying Louie Gohmert?”
Paxton is countering the commercial with his own in East Texas. It begins with Gohmert speaking directly to the camera, saying Paxton’s “attacks on me are now revealing a real desperation.”
When it comes to his attendance record, Gohmert says Paxton is making a mountain out of a molehill.
“In contrast to Paxton’s pattern of dishonesty and unlawful behavior brought forward by his own very top attorneys, these votes are basically procedural in nature, designed to get Congressional members to the floor so that leadership can whip votes, and are a tiny percentage of the thousands and thousands of votes cast,” Gohmert said in a statement. “Once again, Ken fails to tell the truth to Texas voters, and his pattern of dishonesty is disqualifying as our state’s top Attorney.”