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Analysis: The Table is Set, and Conservative Groups Must Like What They See

As Republicans and Democrats finalized their ballots Tuesday for November's general election, the GOP loaded many of its top spots with candidates promoted by the state’s Tea Party and social conservative groups.

State Sen. Ken Paxton, the Republican nominee for attorney general, celebrated his GOP primary win with supporters on May 27, 2014.

Texas Republicans on Tuesday filled out their statewide slate with some of the most conservative candidates, and Texas Democrats cast aside two perennial contenders, setting the tops of their ballots for a November general election that is already generating national interest.

The Republican winners are, with one exception, the slate promoted by many of the state’s Tea Party and social conservative groups. That exception was in the race for Railroad Commission, where Ryan Sitton capitalized on a strong showing in Harris County to defeat Wayne Christian, a former state lawmaker.

Republicans are trying to extend a winning streak of nine election cycles without a single statewide loss.

At the legislative level, too, the Republicans continue to dominate. And the legislative session that starts next January will see a markedly more conservative set of state senators.

Republican runoff voters tapped state Sen. Dan Patrick in the race for lieutenant governor. State Sen. Ken Paxton is the nominee for attorney general, and former state Rep. Sid Miller won the runoff for agriculture commissioner. Along with Sitton, they join a statewide GOP ballot that already includes gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott, comptroller hopeful Glenn Hegar and George P. Bush, the pick for land commissioner.

Democrats are trying to get a win, of course, or at least show some progress toward future wins.

Their voters handed Dallas dentist David Alameel the nomination for U.S. Senate and newcomer Jim Hogan the chance at agriculture commissioner. They set aside the candidacies of Kesha Rogers and Kinky Friedman, each of whom had been getting the official cold shoulder from the Texas Democratic Party — Rogers for asking for the impeachment of the Democratic president, Friedman for running a series of jokey campaigns and expressing support for Republicans like Gov. Rick Perry.

The conservative faction of the GOP also took a victory in a key race, nominating Tea Party favorite Konni Burton over former state Rep. Mark Shelton in Tarrant County’s SD-10 — the seat opened by Democrat Wendy Davis’ bid for governor.

But in the Texas House, candidates backed by the Republican establishment outdid the challengers backed by Empower Texans and other conservative activist groups.

In all but a handful of races, Tuesday’s results set the table for the next legislative session. In the Senate, retiring and vanquished Republican senators are generally being replaced by more conservative lawmakers. And Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s defeat at the hands of Patrick potentially puts a populist conservative at the helm of the Senate. In the one swing seat in that body, Burton will face Democrat Libby Willis in a district that leans Republican, especially in presidential midterm elections like this one.

Within the Republican caucus in the House, the changes in ideological makeup appear to be small. Conservatives won a handful of races in March, but probably not enough to upset the balance in that chamber.

The most competitive races that remain are at the top of the ballot. The top two races on the ticket are already getting attention, and Patrick’s nomination locks in the last contestant there; he’ll face fellow state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, in November in a contest that could be as interesting, because of those two personalities, as the Abbott-Davis race for governor.

Democratic turnout in this year’s primaries was much weaker than Republican turnout — neither is worth bragging about — but the Republican primaries were more competitive and probably drew voters as a result.

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Politics 2014 elections