First Thoughts: Establishment Holds in Texas, but Tea Party Yanks Party Right

Image: John Cornyn

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas walks to the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, during consideration of the veterans benefits bill. Using a procedural move to block the massive bill, Republicans derailed Democratic legislation to provide $21 billion for medical, education and job-training benefits for the nation's veterans, as the bill fell victim to election-year disputes over spending and whether to slap sanctions on Iran. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite / AP

GOP establishment (mostly) holds on in Texas primary results last night… But if the GOP establishment won the battle last night, the Tea Party has already won the war… On the Democratic side, Wendy Davis easily won her primary, while LaRouche activist advanced to the Senate runoff… The latest from the White House on Ukraine… Obama continues campaign for higher minimum wage with speech in Connecticut at 2:30 pm ET… Rand Paul asks Kentucky legislature for legislation to ensure he can run for both president and Senate re-election in 2016… And private Medicaid expansion passes in Arkansas.
GOP establishment (mostly) holds on in Texas
As expected, it was a good night for establishment Republicans in Texas over the Tea Party. In the marquee national race, Sen. John Cornyn -- the No. 2 Senate Republican in leadership -- easily bested Rep. Steve Stockman and six other GOP challengers and cleared the 50% threshold to avoid a runoff. State Attorney General Greg Abbott cruised in the gubernatorial primary, and he’ll face Democrat Wendy Davis in the general election. And Rep. Pete Sessions got 64% of the vote in his primary against Katrina Pierson, who had been endorsed by Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz’s father. But in a sign that this establishment-vs.-Tea Party storyline is FAR from over, not every establishment Republican escaped unscathed last night. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who lost the 2012 GOP Senate primary against Ted Cruz, finished second with just 28% of the vote in his primary for re-election, and heads to the May 27 runoff in an incredibly vulnerable position. And 90-year-old Rep. Ralph Hall finished first in his primary with 45%, but was unable to avoid a runoff -- and also is vulnerable. What’s more, a handful of incumbent GOP state legislators lost to primary challengers, the Dallas Morning News writes.
But the Tea Party has already won the war
Yet if the GOP establishment largely won the battle last night, the Tea Party has already won the war. Every Republican running for office -- up and down the ballot -- did so by running hard to the right and hard against President Obama (even in races that have nothing to do with the president). “[A]fter Mr. Cruz’s successful insurgent Senate campaign in 2012 against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the well-financed candidate of the party establishment, the primary races have taken on a no-rules tenor amid a barrage of overheated language, fiery attack ads and accusations against candidates that range from hiring illegal immigrants to supporting a bill to rename a portion of a Dallas Interstate the President Barack Obama Freeway,” as the New York Times put it over the weekend. And in another example of how the Tea Party has already won the war, just check out the tweet that Sen. Lindsey Graham -- another establishment Republican facing a Tea Party primary field this year -- fired off yesterday regarding the situation in Ukraine: “It started with Benghazi. When you kill Americans and nobody pays a price, you invite this type of aggression.” Bottom line: Establishment Republicans have figured out how to survive (for the most part) in these primaries, but the question is whether this has been good for the party in the long run.
How not to win friends and influence enemies
While Ted Cruz and the Tea Party have definitely shaped the tenor of the GOP campaigns in Texas, don’t forget this fact: Cruz (who serves in a leadership position with the National Republican Senatorial Committee) declined to endorse fellow Senate Republican Cornyn, and Cornyn still easily won his primary. And as mentioned above, Rep. Pete Sessions defeated the Tea Party challenger Cruz’s father had backed. That strategy probably isn’t the best way to win friends and influence enemies.
For Democrats, Wendy Davis easily wins primary, while LaRouche activist advances to the Senate runoff
As for the Democratic primary in Texas, both Wendy Davis (getting 79% of the vote) and Leticia Van de Putte (100%) cruised in their respective primaries for governor and lieutenant governor -- which means that the top-two candidates on the ballot will be women. But in an embarrassment for the party, the anti-Obama Lyndon LaRouche acolyte (Kesha Rogers) advanced to the runoff for U.S. Senate after finishing second in the primary with 22% of the vote. But she’ll probably be the underdog to David Alameel, who finished first in the field with 47%. And comedic musician and iconoclastic politician Kinky Friedman made the Democratic runoff for agriculture commissioner.
The latest from the White House on Ukraine
During a late afternoon briefing yesterday, senior administration officials said President Obama spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel for nearly an hour on Tuesday, NBC’s Peter Alexander reports. Officials say they expect more calls between the president and Russia President Vladimir Putin in the coming days. Officials made the point that Obama does not view Putin as irrational, and that they intend to keep the lines of communication open. Still, these senior administration officials admitted that Obama’s 90-minute call with Putin on Saturday was essentially an exercise in talking past one another. Alexander adds that officials also focused on a four-pronged strategy regarding the situation in Ukraine: 1) mobilizing the international community; 2) politically and economically isolating Russia (which includes a suspension of the G8 prep meetings); 3) presenting Russia with an “off ramp” to avoid consequences; and 4) reinforcing support to the Ukrainian government.
Obama continues campaign for higher minimum wage
President Obama, meanwhile, heads to New Britain, CT, where he’ll deliver remarks at 2:30 pm ET on raising the minimum wage with the Democratic governors of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Afterward, he hits two events for the Democratic National Committee before returning back to DC later in the evening.
Rand Paul asks Kentucky legislature for legislation to ensure he can run for both president and Senate re-election in 2016
If you want more evidence that Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is more than thinking about running for president in 2016, check out this story via the Washington Times: “Opening a door to hedge his political bets, Sen. Rand Paul has asked the leader of the Kentucky Senate for legislation to ensure that Mr. Paul can run both for the White House and for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2016… ‘Yes, I am working on clarifying an ambiguous state law that Rand Paul believes is unconstitutional if it is interpreted to bar running for re-election to the Senate and for president at the same time,’ Kentucky Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer told The Times on Monday.”
Setting the national stakes for FL-13
The special congressional election in Florida is less than a week away, and’s Benjy Sarlin sets the national stakes for the race. “Republicans have been crowing for months that Obamacare will wreak untold devastation on Democratic candidates in the 2014 elections. All the while, Democrats have argued the other side is overreaching and that their all-or-nothing pledge to repeal the health care law will backfire,” Sarlin writes. “Those competing theories will get an early test run next Tuesday in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, where Democrat and former gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink, 65, is squaring off against Republican businessman and lobbyist David Jolly, 41, in a special election.” We’ll be diving into the race in the next few days.
Private Medicaid expansion passes in Arkansas
And don't miss this victory for advocates of expanding Medicaid under the health-care law. “The state House of Representatives has passed funding to continue Arkansas's private option Medicaid expansion, approving the bill after four attempts last month came up short. The House voted 76-24 Tuesday in favor of the Senate version, which passed on its first try last month. It will next go to Gov. Mike Beebe,” the Arkansas Democrat Gazette writes. “Beebe said he was ‘obviously’ pleased by the vote, which he said should have been an easier process than when legislators narrowly approved the private option last year. This time around, they had approval of the program from the federal government and a host of tax cuts passed based on its savings, he said. ‘If anything, it was even more compelling this time to do it than it was last time — not to mention the fact you'd be throwing 100,000 people off healthcare’ if it didn't pass, he said.”
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