JIM VERTUNO, PAUL J. WEBER
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Losing ground elsewhere in the U.S., the tea party emerged from Texas’ primary runoffs mightier than ever in the nation’s biggest conservative stronghold, sacking Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and ousting a 91-year-old congressman who was seeking one final term.
But Congressman Ralph Hall, the oldest-ever member of the U.S. House, was swept away by the latest wave of Republican insurgency that is now poised to have the muscle in the Legislature to make good on promises to push the state even further to the right on immigration, abortion, gun rights and spending.
The tea party’s keystone victory was state Sen. Dan Patrick, a fiery conservative radio talk show host, who denied Dewhurst a fourth term by a 2-to-1 margin and then began his general election candidacy by unabashedly pledging to shove aside outnumbered Democrats come 2015.
“Some Democrats said they want me to be the nominee. Well they got me, and I’m coming,” Patrick told supporters at his victory party in Houston.
He added: “Salute the tea party of Texas!”
Dewhurst, a multimillionaire energy businessman who has been lieutenant governor since 2003, saw his once-powerful political career in Texas end after losing to an outspent tea party underdog for the second time in as many years. He began his concession speech by noting rainy weather across the state that he said impacted turnout.
Dewhurst had said this would be his final campaign. But just like his collapse against Ted Cruz for the U.S. Senate nomination in 2012, spending millions from his own fortune couldn’t convince GOP voters that he was anything other than a mainstream Republican who had grown too entrenched.
Hall also promised voters that he wanted just one last term. But former U.S. Attorney John Ratcliffe, who was backed by top tea party groups, denied Hall an 18th term representing the sprawling district that stretches from suburban Dallas to the Texas-Louisiana border.
Hall, who has served 34 years in Congress, met his defeat by greeting a room in Rockwall full of family and supporters, many of whom he had known for decades. He smiled for pictures and thanked reporters for allowing him to express his gratitude to voters.
“I just got whipped and got beat, and my folks are sad, but they know that I’m not sad,” said Hall, who lost by fewer than 3,000 votes. “I’m pleased to have had the opportunity.”
Tuesday’s Republican runoffs settled nominations for four major offices and nearly a dozen statehouse seats. In the GOP campaign for attorney general between two state legislators, tea party-backed Ken Paxton beat Dan Branch, who is a member of the House leadership team.
Sid Miller won the nod for agriculture commissioner over his former colleague in the Legislature, Tommy Merritt, whom he accused of being too moderate.
But Patrick scored the tea party’s biggest win in Texas since Cruz.
The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate. Patrick, who founded the Legislature’s tea party caucus, had criticized Dewhurst as too cozy with Democrats and for not preventing Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster of a 2013 measure restricting abortion, which drew national attention and launched her run for governor.
Patrick advances to the November general election against Democrat Leticia Van de Putte, a state senator from San Antonio.
Democrats welcomed the dominating tea party victories.
“The days of a pragmatic Texas Republican Party are over,” said Manny Garcia, spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party. “U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Dan Patrick have driven their party so far off the ideological cliff there is no balance and common sense.”
Tim Shell of the Woodlands, a 48-year-old self-employed online education businessman, said he voted for Patrick over Dewhurst.
“Dewhurst is of the old party that’s been in there so long and we need change,” Shell said. “It’s time for patriots to stand up and say we’re not going to put up with it.”