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Texas AG Ken Paxton defeats George P. Bush in GOP primary in bid for re-election

Paxton, a close ally of former President Donald Trump, sued to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks to reporters in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on April 26.Stefani Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images file

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a close ally of former President Donald Trump, fended off a primary challenge from Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush in Tuesday’s runoff election.

With 59 percent of the expected vote counted, Paxton held a 34-point lead over Bush.

In a statement following his defeat, Bush referenced the shooting at an elementary school in southern Texas earlier Tuesday in which a gunman killed at least 19 children and two adults.

"Things didn't go as we planned," Bush said. "But after the tragic events of earlier today, it's important to keep life's temporary disappointments in perspective. There are grieving parents in South Texas today. My family and I are grieving with them."

"We will continue fighting for the rule of law in Texas," he added. I trust and pray in Governor Abbott's ability to control the southern border and work to ensure the system of justice and respect for Texas laws are honored and maintained."

His statement did not reference Paxton.

Bush — the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush — is the first member of his family to lose a statewide election in Texas since his grandfather George H.W. Bush, the former president, lost the state’s 1980 Republican presidential primary to Ronald Reagan.

“There’s Bush burnout,” Derek Ryan, a Texas Republican data guru, said in an interview. “A majority of Republicans still love and admire W. and his dad, but they probably think it’s time to move on to someone not named Bush.”

Paxton had defeated Bush in the March primary election by nearly 20 points but failed to garner 50 percent of the vote in the crowded primary field. The race narrowed with the two having advanced to a runoff election, with a Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll released this month finding Paxton with a 6-point edge over Bush.

The race pitted the longevity of the Bush dynasty against a popular but embattled incumbent. Paxton’s campaign had portrayed Bush as a “RINO,” or Republican in Name Only, while Bush took aim at Paxton’s legal troubles.

“I’m proud of my family’s contributions to Texas and America,” Bush said in a closing ad. “But this race isn’t about my last name. It’s about Ken Paxton’s crimes.”

“I will return integrity to the attorney general’s office,” he added.

Paxton has been under indictment on securities fraud charges for seven years and also faced an FBI probe of allegations by former top aides that he abused his office. In both instances, Paxton has denied any wrongdoing.

Paxton, who was first elected attorney general in 2014, was re-elected in 2018 after he was indicted. He has faced calls to resign from members of both parties, including Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a former top Paxton aide.

Bush has faced criticism, and past primary challenges, during his tenure as land commissioner over his plans to restore the Alamo and for his handling of federal Hurricane Harvey relief funding.

Bush has sought to counter attacks on his conservative credentials by embracing plans to erect a border wall with Mexico and curtail abortion rights and Texas’ recent efforts to investigate parents of transgender children for child abuse.

Paxton and Bush fought for Trump’s endorsement last year before the former president gave it to Paxton, saying he “will never let you down!”

A fierce defender of the former president, Paxton filed a lawsuit challenging the results of the 2020 election. The Supreme Court declined to hear it. Bush sought Trump’s backing even though Trump publicly disparaged his father and his uncle. Bush had tweeted about his support for Trump while his campaign distributed koozies showcasing Trump’s praising the younger Bush.

“This is the only Bush that likes me,” Trump said. “This is the Bush that got it right. I like him.”

Jessica Colon, a Republican grassroots consultant, said that while you “can’t count out a Bush” in the future, she questioned his decision to take on Paxton, who she said is “popular with the Republican base.”

“He should have picked a different opponent or a different seat that was open,” she said.

Democrats had a runoff of their own in their attorney general primary Tuesday. Civil rights lawyer Rochelle Garza beat attorney Joe Jaworski, NBC News projects.