Analysis: Texas election day is a time to say goodbye to some well-known candidates

Voters cast their ballots at Taylor City Hall on Oct. 14, 2020. (Amna Ijaz/The Texas Tribune, Amna Ijaz/The Texas Tribune)

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No matter how the Texas primaries shake out on Tuesday, voters will send some well-known politicians packing.

It’s cutting time.

The Republican race for attorney general might be the best example, with three candidates who’ve been elected statewide and an East Texas congressman who’s familiar to anyone with a cable TV subscription.

Ken Paxton, first elected in 2014, was indicted in 2015 on felony charges that, as a private lawyer, he solicited investors for a company without telling them he was being paid to do so. That case, now almost seven years old, has never gone to trial. That’s not all: In late 2020, several of the top attorneys in his agency accused him of using his public office to benefit a political donor, making their whistleblower complaints to state officials and to federal investigators.

The Democrats were always going to challenge the Republican incumbent. But the ethical clouds over Paxton attracted strong challengers from his own party: George P. Bush, the state’s land commissioner and a member of a storied family in Texas politics; U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler, whose reputation as a rabble-rouser in Congress has earned him fans and foes beyond his district; and Eva Guzman, who gave up a safe seat on the Texas Supreme Court to run for the state’s top legal job as the most experienced lawyer in the pack.

Someone is going home on Wednesday. Two of those four candidates, if nobody wins a majority of votes and there’s a May runoff; three of them, if someone wins outright.

Races like that reverberate down the ballot. Bush’s empty seat at the state’s General Land Office attracted four Democrats and eight Republicans. Ten of those 12 candidates will be at home in November, watching the general election results and thinking about what might’ve been.

Most incumbents don’t have Paxton’s worries. But some have drawn semi-famous foes.

Greg Abbott is leading all of the polls in his bid for another term as governor — and by a comfortable margin. He’s got some opponents whose names you might know. Allen West, a one-term member of Congress from Florida who also chaired the Texas Republican Party for a time, is there. So is former state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas.

He’s also got opponents you might not know: Paul Belew, Danny Harrison, Kandy Kaye Horn, Rick Perry and Chad Prather. And before you say you know Rick Perry, you should know that’s not the former governor seeking another term. There’s more than one RP in Texas politics.

Some candidates have made themselves known in unexpected ways. Sarah Stogner, a Republican running for the Texas Railroad Commission, pulled off her top and rode an oilfield pumpjack, then posted the short video on TikTok to make her name more familiar. The stunt brought some attention to what had been a relatively sleepy race. “I need to get people’s attention, right?” Stogner told The Texas Tribune’s Mitchell Ferman. “And here we are, it’s working.”

The incumbent, Republican Wayne Christian, has two problems. Railroad commissioners aren’t well known, and he faces ethics questions after voting to permit an oilfield waste dump facility and then accepting a $100,000 political contribution from the company that got the permit.

The primary has three more people on the ballot, including Marvin “Sarge” Summers, who died in a car crash after starting the race. He can still get votes, however, and they’ll still be counted. But only one of the five names will go forward after the primaries and, if needed, the runoffs.

Some candidates do come back after losing elections, including some famous ones. Texans know one name on the Democratic ballot for governor because of his losses in races for the U.S. Senate and the presidency.

But Beto O’Rourke isn’t in the general election yet. To do that, he’ll have to get past four other Democrats on Tuesday.

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