Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made an appearance at a Williamson County watch party on Tuesday.
Paxton put his job and ability to withstand legal troubles on the line Tuesday in a Republican primary runoff against George P. Bush, whose own family record was at stake.
The outcome in America’s biggest red state will test how much weight the Bush name still carries in Texas, where the family’s roots run deep. It also will gauge whether an incumbent backed by former President Donald Trump who has helped steer Texas farther to the right over limiting transgender rights and investigating elections can keep a hold on GOP voters in the face of mounting accusations.
“It’s not about dynasties. It’s not about some sort of myth. It’s about doing the right thing and supporting the right people for the right offices,” Bush said Tuesday after voting in Austin. “And I think anybody can plainly see that we’ve got a crook right now in our top law enforcement position who continually abuses his office.”
Bush, who is currently Texas’ land commissioner, forced a runoff against Paxton during a crowded four-way primary in March that put at the forefront an ongoing FBI investigation into the two-term incumbent over accusations of corruption. Paxton is also still awaiting trial on securities fraud charges after being indicted in 2015.
More recently, the State Bar of Texas is weighing possible reprimands against Paxton over his baseless attempts to overturn the 2020 election.
But despite coming in second, Bush trailed by 20 points. The wide gap underscores Paxton’s continued political durability and how much ground the 46-year-old scion of the Bush political dynasty needs to make up with GOP voters in Texas, where his uncle, former President George W. Bush, was once governor and his late grandfather, former President George H.W. Bush, was a congressman and longtime Houston resident.
But the Bushes’ influence in the GOP is not what it once was.
Two years ago, Pierce Bush, a cousin of George P. Bush, became the first member of his family to lose a race in Texas in 40 years in a failed run for Congress in Houston. Paxton has seized on the shift with Republican voters while embracing Trump, who has endorsed Paxton and has mocked and antagonized the Bush family over the years while taking the family’s place as the GOP’s standard-bearer.
When U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas last week became a rare top Republican to publicly criticize Paxton, calling his long-running and unresolved criminal case an “embarrassment,” Paxton shot back by aligning him with the Bushes.
“I’m not shocked by the Senator’s comments. He represents the Bush wing of the GOP,” Paxton tweeted.
Greg Pinn, 41, of Dallas, decided to vote in the Republican primary “solely” to vote against Paxton. He said that while he wasn’t fond of George P. Bush, “no one is worse than Ken Paxton.”
“The attorney general of Texas at least shouldn’t be an actual criminal, he’s got to be somewhat better than that,” Pinn said.
Another Dallas voter, Dan Newell, said he also decided to vote in the Republican primary in order to cast a vote against Paxton. Newell, 67, said that he wants the “best representative for our state,” and said he thinks it’s “inappropriate” for someone with “alleged criminal baggage” to be in that job.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Bush has ratcheted up his attacks on Paxton’s legal troubles, running ads that highlight the unresolved indictments and FBI investigation, and call him unfit for office.
“This race isn’t about my last name,” Bush says in one ad. “It’s about Ken Paxton’s crimes.”
This wasn’t persuasive for one voter Tuesday. Suzanne Grishman was not deterred by the attorney general’s indictment or the ongoing FBI investigation, saying, “I believe people are innocent until proven guilty.”
Grishman, 54, said she cast a ballot for Paxton in Dallas because she appreciates his “very bold stances” and because “he has a proven track-record of following the Constitution and the laws of the land and individual rights and freedoms for Americans and Texans.”