A Primary as Big as Texas

Steve Stockman’s surprise move sets stage for another high-profile establishment versus tea party battle.

John Cornyn at the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) election watch party at the Washington Hyatt on Tuesday, November 2, 2010.
©2010 Richard A. Bloom
Dec. 9, 2013, 4:38 p.m.

John Cornyn was so close. The Texas seni­or sen­at­or and Re­pub­lic­an whip waltzed in­to the fi­nal day of ap­plic­a­tions for the Lone Star State primary with nary a cred­ible op­pon­ent in sight. 

But then, in a sur­prise move, a mem­ber of Texas’s con­gres­sion­al del­eg­a­tion, Steve Stock­man, filed pa­per­work late Monday to chal­lenge the two-term in­cum­bent. In­stead of skat­ing by his primary with barely a chal­lenge, Cornyn now faces the un­wel­come task of de­fend­ing his right flank in a primary sure to garner na­tion­al at­ten­tion — one that could serve as the latest ref­er­en­dum in the on­go­ing tea party versus es­tab­lish­ment battle. 

The news was first re­por­ted by World Net Daily.

But first, Stock­man — who filed his can­did­acy on the last day his pa­per­work was due — will have to prove he is an ad­equate can­did­ate, and early in­dic­a­tions sug­gest that’s not guar­an­teed. He had only $32,000 on hand to end Septem­ber, Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion re­ports show, and was $163,000 in debt. Those are paltry sums any­where; in the na­tion’s second largest state (that has 23 me­dia mar­kets), they make a cam­paign all but im­possible. Mak­ing mat­ters harder for Stock­man is Texas’s re­l­at­ively early primary, on March 4, mean­ing he has a scant four months to raise enough money for a cred­ible chal­lenge.

Cornyn, mean­while, will have no such prob­lems: He already has nearly $6 mil­lion in the bank.

In an in­ter­view with WND, Stock­man said he de­cided to run against Cornyn be­cause he said that the seni­or Texas sen­at­or be­trayed Ted Cruz — a hero to con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ists and Cornyn’s Lone Star State col­league in the Sen­ate. The an­im­us ap­par­ently stems from his vote in Oc­to­ber to end the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment shut­down and ex­tend the debt ceil­ing.

“We are ex­tremely dis­ap­poin­ted in the way he treated his fel­low con­gress­men and broke the 11th com­mand­ment and un­der­mined (Sen.) Ted Cruz’s fight to stop Obama­care,” he told the news Web site.

Later, he ad­ded: “I don’t know that I can beat him, but I am sure go­ing to try,” he said, adding that he thinks he has a shot be­cause, “In Texas, con­ser­vat­ive policies win over stabbing fel­low Re­pub­lic­an in the back.”

Point­ing to Cruz as the im­petus for his cam­paign, of course, gives the firebrand sig­ni­fic­ant lever­age over his cam­paign. If Cruz offered sup­port to Cornyn, who has cour­ted his col­league as­sidu­ously this con­gres­sion­al term, that could stop the Texas con­gress­man’s ef­fort be­fore it gets star­ted.

But Cruz has said he will stay out of primar­ies. And some of his al­lies have already sug­ges­ted they plan to back Stock­man’s fledgling ef­fort. “We haven’t de­cided yet wheth­er we will en­dorse Steve Stock­man, but we’re glad he is run­ning,” said Matt Hoskins, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund, a group that has run afoul of the GOP es­tab­lish­ment. “Texas de­serves two con­ser­vat­ive fight­ers in the Sen­ate, not just one. John Cornyn has voted to in­crease the debt, raise taxes, bail out Wall Street banks, and fund Obama­care. He’s part of the prob­lem in Wash­ing­ton and voters de­serve an al­tern­at­ive.”

The anti-tax group Club for Growth, which in the past has shown real muscle in in­tra-GOP fights, didn’t im­me­di­ately re­turn re­quests for com­ment.

In a state­ment, Cornyn’s cam­paign man­ager touted the sen­at­or’s con­ser­vat­ive cre­den­tials.

“En­dorsed by Texas Right to Life and ranked as the 2nd most con­ser­vat­ive Sen­at­or in Amer­ica, Sen­at­or Cornyn looks for­ward to dis­cuss­ing his con­ser­vat­ive re­cord with Tex­ans,” said Cornyn Cam­paign Man­ager Brendan Stein­haus­er.

The GOP’s polit­ic­al es­tab­lish­ment in Wash­ing­ton, mean­while, ral­lied be­hind Cornyn.

“John Cornyn is one of the most con­ser­vat­ive Mem­bers in the Sen­ate and strong lead­er for the state of Texas,” said Brad Dayspring, spokes­man for the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee, a group Cornyn chaired last year. “We are proud to sup­port Sen­at­or Cornyn and while this primary chal­lenge is quite the head scratch­er, it will be de­feated.”

Stock­man has already had one of Wash­ing­ton’s most ec­lect­ic ca­reers. First elec­ted in 1994 (he had run twice pre­vi­ously), he served only one term be­fore los­ing re-elec­tion. He emerged six­teen years later, in 2012, to win a 12-per­son GOP primary in the state’s 36th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict. Re­gard­less of how he per­forms in his Sen­ate run, he will have served two non-con­sec­ut­ive single terms in the House — Texas GOP of­fi­cials said he with­drew his ap­plic­a­tion to run in his dis­trict.

The con­gress­man is known more for his in­cen­di­ary press re­leases and ir­rev­er­ent tweets than his le­gis­lat­ive prowess. The Tex­an, who was elec­ted in 2012 but also served a term in the 1990s, is the defin­i­tion of a con­gres­sion­al back-bench­er. He is neither friendly with lead­er­ship nor part of the tight-knit group of House con­ser­vat­ives who reg­u­larly at­tempt to dic­tate the House GOP’s ideo­lo­gic­al agenda.

Stock­man’s only hope might be hold­ing Cornyn un­der 50 per­cent of the vote in March, which would ne­ces­sit­ate a two-man run­off. Six oth­er people, Cornyn in­cluded, are seek­ing the party’s nom­in­a­tion, al­though none of them were con­sidered cred­ible be­fore Monday.

That’s how the then-un­der­dog Cruz de­feated es­tab­lish­ment fa­vor­ite Dav­id Dewhurst last year, and some con­ser­vat­ives will no doubt jump at the com­par­is­on between the two men. But Cruz, an Ivy League-gradu­ate, was also the state’s former so­li­cit­or gen­er­al and a well-known com­mod­ity among many Wash­ing­ton con­ser­vat­ives. Stock­man is none of those things.

Stock­man is the latest con­ser­vat­ive chal­lenger to an in­cum­bent Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or. Sens. Mitch Mc­Con­nell, Lamar Al­ex­an­der, and Mi­chael En­zi and Lind­sey Gra­ham all face chal­lenges — al­though it’s not clear if any of them are in ser­i­ous danger of los­ing their seat. The most com­pet­it­ive primary might be­long to Thad Co­chran, of Mis­sis­sippi, whose un­ex­pec­ted de­cision to seek a sev­enth term in of­fice set up a lively battle with state Sen. Chris McDaniel.

Tim Al­berta con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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