AUSTIN, Texas, December 10, 2013 — One minute before the Texas filing deadline for primary candidates on Monday, Senator John Cornyn received a serious primary challenge from conservative Congressman Steve Stockman.
Stockman declared war on Cornyn in an uncompromising press release, calling Cornyn a “Harry Reid Republican,” calling him a “liberal” in almost every sentence and referencing Cornyn’s record of supporting Obamacare and big government in the Senate and his opposition to conservative candidates like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Stockman’s comments point pretty clearly at his strategy for the campaign with multiple references to recently elected Senator Ted Cruz. Despite the attacks he has faced from the left and in the national media, Cruz is hugely popular among conservatives and Republican voters in Texas. Stockman’s goal in the campaign will be to convince voters who like Cruz that they would like to have another Senator like Cruz to replace Cornyn.
When reached for a comment Monday evening, Stockman said “John Cornyn seems to only be a conservative around election time. For the other five years of his term he spends his time violating Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment and undermining conservative Republicans as we saw with his misguided attack on Ted Cruz.”
Cornyn’s record in the Senate gives Stockman plenty to work with. With votes for Medicare Part D, TARP, the NDAA and PIPA, Cornyn seems to line up with Democrats and Senate moderates like John McCain and Lindsey Graham pretty consistently. Cornyn has a record as a big spender, raising the debt limit 8 times, voting for the Fiscal Cliff deal that raised taxes on 77% of Americans and voting against fiscally responsible Senate budget proposals. Cornyn’s recent vote against defunding Obamacare and his derisive public attack on Ted Cruz after his record setting floor speech against the president’s troubled healthcare plan have made Cornyn particularly unpopular with Texas voters.
Although Cornyn had drawn no major challengers prior to Stockman’s last minute filing, a poll taken by Public Policy Polling a month ago showed that 49% of Republican primary voters wanted a major conservative candidate to run against Cornyn. Cornyn’s approval rating has dropped to 33%. The poll also showed that 62% of Republican primary voters prefer Cruz to Cornyn.
Stockman clearly believes that public sentiment is against Cornyn and that there is room for a challenge from the right. Cornyn is painfully aware of his declining popularity. Even with no significant challengers and what looked like a clear path to reelection, he has been running radio ads for months trying to reassure voters of his conservative credentials, assertions which may have fallen on deaf ears with those familiar with Cornyn’s real record.
Stockman is more than just a generic conservative. He also has strong libertarian leanings. He is on the Advisory Board of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He wants to end to the war on drugs, opposes unconstitutional use of the military and intervention in Syria, and has stood up for privacy rights against government spying. Stockman has been willing to challenge party leadership in the House and has been a strong ally of the reform wing of the GOP in Congress, working with Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Justin Amash and Thomas Massie on key legislation. Stockman has promised support for the USA FREEDOM Act which will reverse many provisions of the PATRIOT Act and FISA and put limits on the NSA. Cornyn opposes the Senate version of the bill.
Challenging a well-established incumbent Senator who already has $6 million in his war chest is not going to be easy for Stockman, but the Congressman has a history of effective fundraising and is a very skilled campaigner. He has an established network of support and presumably consulted with key backers prior to making the decision to run.
Powerful Tea Party organizing group FreedomWorks has been outspoken in its opposition to Cornyn and will likely bring money and allies to Stockman’s side as they did for Cruz last year. Stockman’s entry makes the Texas Senate race a lot more exciting, joining the list of Senate races in states like Alaska, Kentucky and South Carolina where long-term establishment Republicans face serious primary challenges.
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