State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said Wednesday that 53 of his fellow House members have endorsed his bid for attorney general. Last week, state Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, released the names of 23 state representatives who are supporting his effort.
The announcements underscore the notion that Texas Republicans make up two of the three parties in the Texas House. That body includes 95 Republicans, including Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, who has not made an official endorsement. With 76 having now taken sides, and excluding Branch, that leaves only 17 members who have not selected Branch or Paxton.
Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman is also in the race, and it is possible some of the holdouts may back him. A few members currently abstaining, like Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, have launched or are weighing their own statewide races.
While all the attorney general candidates have said they are eager to carry on in the tradition of current Attorney General Greg Abbott, the choice of Paxton and Branch appears to at least offer a clear choice in approach to governance of the House. Branch has been a strong ally of Straus, while Paxton unsuccessfully tried to unseat the speaker in 2011.
Given that history, the manner in which the endorsements match up with an analysis of the House members' partisanship conducted by Rice University political scientist Mark Jones in mid-May proves telling.
Of the 20 most conservative members according to Jones' list, 19 have endorsed Paxton. When his campaign announced the group of 23 total, they cited it as a demonstration of Paxton's "deep level of conservative backing."
Meanwhile, Branch's campaign is touting the broad nature of their coalition. "These members represent a wide geographic cross-section of the Texas House of Representatives," the campaign noted in a press release, "...as well as millions of Texans from rural, suburban, and urban communities throughout the state."
"I have been proud to work alongside so many strong conservatives to support an environment that has helped foster the Texas Miracle while protecting limited government and traditional values," Branch said in a statement.
Interestingly, if the current Paxton and Branch endorsement lists represent the core groups that make up the two Republican parties in the Texas House, then that leaves the Democrats, if they can hold together, as the largest of the three with 55 members.