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Republican Primaries 2014: Extreme Party Makeover Edition

Photo: Jeremiah Teutsch, License: N/A

Jeremiah Teutsch

Why ‘moderate’ doesn’t seem to be a popular choice during the primaries

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Don’t mess with Texas, Obama. Mr. President, you’re not a king! I’ll fight Obama’s liberal agenda. I’ll fight against Obama’s attacks on Texas. Come and take it, Obama. Judging by campaign ads and platform speeches, one could understandably assume the Republican primary candidates vying for Texas lieutenant governor are running squarely against the President.

“You would think Obama is hiding in a bush somewhere with an AK-47, ready to attack Texans,” local Democratic campaign consultant Christian Archer tells the Current.

The Obama bashing is indicative of the Republican primary race itself—a transparent attempt to once again rile up the Tea Party base with heaping helpings of red meat.

In a game of unprecedented extremist one-upmanship, the four candidates—state Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples and incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst—are trampling over each other in arguably the most competitive statewide primary race, trying to prove who wears the ultra-conservative badge best.

For example, during their first televised debate, all candidates opposed abortion, even in cases of rape or incest; supported the teaching of Creationism in public schools; and shared staunch anti-immigration views, like opposing in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

“The right wing has hijacked their party. I thought this was the period in which true moderation would take place—it’s clearly not,” says Archer.

Why so extreme? Part of the reason, he says, is that the GOP candidates are doing everything they can to appeal to not just socially conservative Republicans but the powerful Tea Party fringe, whose voting power knocked down Dewhurst in his 2012 bid for U.S. Senate and ushered in Tea Party darling Ted Cruz. On the campaign trail, Cruz turned Dewhurst’s conservatism into milquetoast centrism.

“I think all Republicans running in a primary right now are scared of being Cruzed,” Archer says.

Local GOP strategist Kelton Morgan agrees, “I think there’s a fair element of people smelling blood in the water. The Tea Party see this great victory two years ago, and see that Dewhurst is definitely vulnerable—so they’re thinking, ‘Let’s try to win again.’”

Morgan predicts several of the races will head into runoffs, including the lite guv race, likely pitting Dewhurst and either Patrick or (only slightly more moderate) Patterson as the contender. The question becomes, “Is the primary electorate hard right enough to put someone like Dan Patrick into a runoff with the lieutenant governor?” According to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released earlier this week, signs point to yes: While Dewhurst leads with 37 percent, rival Patrick comes in second, garnering 31 percent of the projected vote among those surveyed.

But if they’re destined to implode from the weight of their right-wing nuttery, let ‘em, says Archer.

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