For Texas tea partiers, the space between Senate hero and Senate villain is just 26 votes.
That is the number of times John Cornyn has cast a different vote this year than the state’s other senator, the tea party-preferred Ted Cruz.
It works out to less than 10 percent of the 273 (and counting) roll calls the Senate has taken in 2013.
And in some of those votes, including a handful of judicial confirmations for Obama administration appointees, Cornyn staked out a more conservative position than his fellow Texan, who has become a grassroots GOP star in the past two years.
But don’t tell that to his tea-party critics. Indeed, while Cruz has been cheered back home for his work in Washington, plenty of activists in Texas have been hoping for the chance to defeat Cornyn in the Texas Republican primary. Some tea-party groups had tried for months to recruit a well-known challenger. (Idiosyncratic Rep. Steve Stockman submitted papers to take up their cause just minutes before the filing deadline last week. Since then, he’s bashed Cornyn as “liberal John Cornyn.”)
“The problem with Sen. Cornyn isn’t that he’s some big liberal,” said JoAnn Fleming, executive director for one of the groups, Grassroots America We the People, which tried to recruit a challenger to Cornyn. “He continues to do fundraisers and offer support for establishment-type Republicans who we believe aren’t helping to get to the root of the problem: big government…. He’s done some things we believe aren’t in the best interest of the country because they continue to grow government.”
Of course, it’s the content of particular split votes, not the total number, that most animates Cornyn’s detractors. (This analysis counted roll calls in which both senators voted. Cornyn and Cruz have missed five and 16 votes this year, respectively.)
He and Cruz have diverged infrequently, but one such vote was on a cloture motion for a spending bill just before the federal government shut down this fall. Days earlier on Fox News Sunday, Cruz had said, “A vote for cloture is a vote for Obamacare.”
And Cornyn has also taken past votes — especially the one to let the federal government bail out endangered banks during the financial crisis of 2008 — that have infuriated some conservatives.
That, along with Cornyn’s status in leadership (the Senate’s No. 2 Republican and two recent terms at the helm of the National Republican Senatorial Committee), has fueled some disquiet about the Lone Star State’s senior senator since he won a thoroughly uninteresting primary in 2008 with 81 percent of the vote.
But as his official duties go, there is little daylight between Cornyn and the favorite of the activists working to unseat him.