Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
Two Republicans from rival factions of the party are heading to a runoff in the special election to replace expelled former state Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City.
With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Brent Money and Jill Dutton were set to go to the runoff. Money led with 32% of the vote, while Dutton came in second with 25%.
Money is a Greenville lawyer, while Dutton is the former president of the Republican Women of Van Zandt.
Three other Republicans and one Democrat were on the ballot for the solidly red seat in northeast Texas. One of those Republicans, Heath Hyde, got 21%, while the sole Democrat, Kristen Washington, received 11%, and the rest were in single digits.
The runoff has not been scheduled yet.
The candidates are vying to finish the term of Slaton, which goes through January 2025. In May, the House unanimously voted to expel him after a committee investigation found the married lawmaker got a 19-year-old intern drunk and had sex with her.
The election served as a proxy war between two sides of the Texas GOP that have spent recent months at each other’s throats. Money had the backing of Defend Texas Liberty PAC, the far-right group that has been under fire after its then-president hosted white supremacist Nick Fuentes at his office for more than six hours last month. Dutton is supported by allies of House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, who has been working hard to marginalize Defend Texas Liberty in the fallout from the Fuentes meeting.
The contest was the first state-level election since the Texas Senate acquitted Attorney General Ken Paxton in his impeachment trial in September. Defend Texas Liberty is a top ally of Paxton, and Money opposed his May impeachment in the Phelan-led House. Dutton was more careful on the topic, saying she “respect[s] the process” that unfolded in both chambers.
Money leaned into the intraparty contrast in a statement on his first-place finish, saying the “speaker and all his liberal friends in Austin came together to purchase a seat for their chosen liberal candidate.”
“This district is hungry for true conservative values, and THOSE are the values that won out,” Money said. “That is true today, and it will be true again in the runoff.”
Dutton did not mention Money in a statement on her second-place finish, instead thanking the other Republican candidates for running “with dignity and honor.” She also invoked Slaton’s downfall.
“For too long this district has been without representation,” Dutton said, adding that Slaton “disgraced himself” and his office. “With your help and your vote, we can move forward as a community and gain our voice again at the Texas Capitol.”
Money consolidated supporters from Slaton’s former backers early on, but the intraparty divide exploded after Paxton’s acquittal and the Fuentes controversy.
Beside Defend Texas Liberty, Money’s biggest endorsements included Paxton and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, while Dutton was backed by former Gov. Rick Perry and leadership-aligned groups like Texans for Lawsuit Reform and the Associated Republicans of Texas.
Hyde stood out for boasting the support of the Texas Farm Bureau and being the only contender from Hopkins County, which he carried by a wide margin. He campaigned as the only GOP candidate opposed to school vouchers — a yearlong priority of Gov. Greg Abbott — and a pro-voucher group, the American Federation for Children, spent money to keep him out of an anticipated runoff.
“We launched AFC Victory Fund two months ago with a clear message: If you support school choice, we’ll be your shield – if you don’t, you’re a target,” AFC CEO Tommy Schultz said in a statement.
Dutton had a large financial advantage, reporting $449,000 in contributions throughout the race to $188,000 for Money. By the end, their biggest backers were all in — on a campaign finance report covering Sept. 29 through Oct. 28, about 90% of Dutton's money came from Texans for Lawsuit Reform and the Associated Republicans of Texas, while roughly 60% of Money's funds came from Defend Texas Liberty.
Dutton’s campaign made an issue out of Defend Texas Liberty’s involvement in the race, running a radio ad that calls out “Brent Money and his Neo-Nazi-affiliated backers Defend Texas Liberty." And on Friday, Dutton touted the endorsement of the Quinlan mayor in the district who switched her endorsement because of Money’s ties to the PAC.
Money stayed quiet on the group and its recent scandal. The PAC took the lead in attacking Dutton, claiming that some of her campaign donors also donated to Beto O’Rourke and attacking her for voting to raise property taxes when she was a school board member for Van Independent School District.
Dutton’s attacks also centered on Money’s criticism of former President Donald Trump over the years. Money gave an interview questioning Trump’s morals and conservatism in the lead-up to the 2016 election, and after the 2020 election, he sent out tweets suggesting Trump could not win again in 2024.
“President Trump is in many ways the most conservative President we’ve ever had, proving me wrong in my evaluation of him prior to his election,” Money wrote Friday on Facebook, adding that he voted for Trump in 2020 and he will “no doubt” support him in 2024.
Disclosure: Facebook, Texans for Lawsuit Reform and Texas Farm Bureau have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.