Texas Republican Primary Heats Up

Mar 3, 2014
Originally published on March 3, 2014 3:46 pm

It appears to be a race to the right for Republican candidates in tomorrow’s party primary in Texas.

After the sudden and unexpected rise to power of Texas’ junior and very conservative U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a slew of GOP hopefuls for statewide office have been trying to out-Cruz each other in a state that often serves as a bell weather for where the Republican party is headed.

From Here & Now contributing station KUT in Austin, senior political reporter Ben Philpott joins Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti with details.


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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. It's HERE AND NOW.

It appears to be a race to the right for Republican candidates in tomorrow's party primary in Texas. After the sudden rise to power of Texas' junior U.S. senator, conservative Republican Ted Cruz, a slew of GOP hopefuls for statewide office have been trying to out-Cruz each other in a state that often serves as a bellwether for where the Republican Party is headed. Joining us from HERE AND NOW contributing station KUT in Austin is senior political reporter Ben Philpott. Hi there, Ben.


CHAKRABARTI: So, first of all, Ben, tell us - OK. I understand that U.S. Senator Ted Cruz is not running. But his name is being drawn into these statewide races inside of Texas and people calling it the Cruz effect?

PHILPOTT: That's right. You know, it's - essentially every candidate in the Republican primary is either trying - or most, rather, are trying to either say things on the campaign trail, like, we need more people in Washington, or we need more people in state government like Ted Cruz, and I'm the person that you should elect if you want that. Or they're even grabbing quotes from him, you know, if they've been somewhere on the campaign trail with Senator Cruz. Even though he's not really endorsing, he may have said something positive about the candidate, and they're grabbing those cuts and those bits of video and using them in their advertising as well.

CHAKRABARTI: And this has to do with the fact that, I guess, that it's because it's the party primaries tomorrow in Texas. Do you think the Cruz effect will linger in the general election when - I guess, at least some of these races the Republican candidate will have to face off against a Democrat?

PHILPOTT: Right. But, you know, we've got - it's essentially who wins, I guess. If you've got someone who used the name of Cruz to win a primary, then in their mind there is no reason to back down from that. And we may see even a doubling down of it when you're going against a Democratic opponent who they may try to paint as, you know, a friend of President Obama or, you know, just another liberal politician. And the other side of that is, of course, Ted Cruz.

CHAKRABARTI: So the big race, if I understand correctly, in Texas right now in the GOP primary is that for lieutenant governor. What are the dynamics of that race?

PHILPOTT: Well, we've got our current lieutenant governor trying to seek his fourth term in office. He actually lost a U.S. Senate bid to Senator Cruz. But he's now trying to seek a fourth term in office, and he's got three opponents, all well-known, all either current statewide officeholders or in the state legislature. And it's become a little bit of that Tea Party versus establishment again, with the lieutenant governor kind of being branded as the establishment candidate.

The number two guy who, it appears, will be in a runoff with him based on recent polling, is the Tea Party candidate has really, you know, grabbed that flag and wrapped it around it him. And so it'll just be interesting to see, again, what happens once we get into the runoff who are the people coming out to the polls and how strong is the Tea Party.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, you know, we talked a little bit about the Cruz effect. But what about the broader impact of the growing Hispanic population in Texas because I understand that the lieutenant governor's race is taking on a pretty harsh tone on immigration.

PHILPOTT: It has, especially that the Tea Party candidate, State Senator Dan Patrick, he has said things that you've heard many in the Republican - many Hispanics in the Republican Party say, you know, look, you're crossing a line. You're talking about things like an invasion of immigrants into the United States. You're talking about immigrants maybe bringing disease over to the United States when they cross illegally.

All things that, you know, a handful - we've started to see a handful of Hispanic businessmen and women in the state say, look, that's too much. The language is too harsh. And even a couple have said to some reporters if Senator Patrick is the one who gets the Republican nomination, we very well may go vote for the Democrat on - in this race, which is a Hispanic state senator.

CHAKRABARTI: And in the last couple seconds we have, I've just got to ask about a familiar name. This is a - the latest in the line of Bushes that come out of Texas. George P. Bush, nephew of former President George W. Bush, he's running for land commissioner. We've just got a couple of seconds.

PHILPOTT: That's right. And he's essentially seen as kind of the link for GOP Hispanic outreach in the state. And so it's really, you know, and also nationally, people are looking at him, you know, 10 years from now, what is his next office? Could he be governor? Could he be a presidential candidate?

CHAKRABARTI: Well, always interesting, things happening in Texas. Ben Philpott is the senior political reporter for KUT in Austin. Ben, thank you.

PHILPOTT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.