Is John Cornyn Really Less Conservative Than Ted Cruz?

Just 26 votes separate Texas tea partiers’ favorite senator from the one they want to beat.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 15: Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) speaks to the media after Senate joint caucus meeting, on Capitol Hill, July 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. The senators met in a closed-session in the Old Senate Chamber Wednesday evening to discuss the subjects of filibusters and presidential nominations. 
National Journal
Scott Bland
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Scott Bland
Dec. 16, 2013, 12:02 p.m.

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.

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