Texas runoff face-off: GOP, Democratic Attorney General candidates vie for Paxton’s seat

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Monday marks the first day of early voting for the May 24 runoff, where Texas voters will choose respective nominees for their party in several key races, including the Attorney General.

Voters were split enough in both the Democratic and Republican primaries for Attorney General to force candidates into a runoff. Not a single Republican or Democratic candidate got more than 50% of the vote.

Incumbent Ken Paxton faces a challenge from Land Commissioner George P. Bush for the GOP’s nomination. Democrats will choose between civil rights attorney Rochelle Garza and trial lawyer Joe Jaworski. 

Republican AG runoff 

A Sunday poll from the Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler shows Paxton’s lead is now 6 percentage points over Bush. 

Bush has been visibly campaigning more aggressively. His campaign says Bush has had more than 70 public events since the March 1 primary. Paxton has been most visible on his social media accounts and on conservative broadcast programming, touting his various lawsuits against the Biden administration.

A spokesperson for the Bush campaign said Paxton has not shown up to any candidate forums or events where his opponent is present.

“We’re running a grassroots campaign all the way to the finish line,” said Karina Erickson, communications director for Bush’s campaign. 

Brian Smith, a professor of politics at St. Edwards University, said it’s hard to gauge runoff election outcomes based on polling because the election itself is so vastly different from a primary or general election, where turnout is larger. 

“We never know who’s going to come out to vote. It’s at an odd time of the year. It’s not really publicized as much, it doesn’t get as much media attention. And so in a runoff anything can happen,” he said. “So he’s [Bush] got an uphill battle, but he’s trying to close that ground game.”

In a May campaign ad from Bush, he says he is proud of his family’s legacy in Texas but notes the race is bigger than the preserving Bush dynasty.

“This race isn’t about my last name. It’s about Ken Paxton’s crimes,” he said in the advertisement.

Paxton’s legal woes have been the target of opponents since even before the primary. He faces a years-old indictment for securities fraud, ongoing FBI investigation into allegations of abuse of office, a whistleblower lawsuit from former top aides and complaints from various groups and attorneys seeking to disbar him from the State Bar of Texas.

The incumbent has avoided talking about his ongoing legal issues and focuses on highlighting his performance as Attorney General. He received the coveted Trump endorsement early on, which polling shows still has strong weight with Republican primary voters.

Paxton’s campaign did not respond to requests for an interview or comment.

Democratic AG runoff

Democratic voters will have the choice between civil rights attorney Rochelle Garza and trial lawyer and former Galveston mayor Joe Jaworski.

The two have run a more civil campaign with one another, focusing their attacks squarely on Paxton. Jaworski said the two agreed to support one another regardless of outcome.

Jaworski has said his three decades of experience as a trial lawyer makes him the most qualified and able to defeat Paxton, if he secures the GOP nomination.

In the 2018 election, Paxton narrowly beat a Democrat for attorney general. Jaworski said winning over independent voters would be key in that potential face off.

“They [independents] are not going to be swayed by a purity test in either party. They’re going to look at experience integrity and ethics,” he said.

Garza is most well known for a case involving Paxton that she argued and won before the U.S. Supreme Court, after defending a teenage immigrant who was denied abortion access at an immigration detention center in Texas.

“We have an opportunity here to put up a candidate that has a proven record on fighting for civil rights and winning,” she said. “I’m that candidate I know that can take on Ken Paxton come November.”

We have an opportunity here to put up a candidate that has a proven record on fighting for civil rights and winning. I’m that candidate I know that I can take on Ken Paxton come November

The issue of abortion rights has gained a renewed focus after a leaked draft opinion showed the high court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, sparking progressives to hold protests nationwide and calls to elect officials who will protect reproductive health care.

Garza, who just gave birth to her first daughter weeks ago, said her newfound parenthood has also ignited a new spark in her passion on this issue.

“I want to make sure that my daughter has a bright future and that this next generation does as well,” she said. “That can only be done by ensuring that she and all the other young women are treated as equals, as full human beings with human rights. And that does start with reproductive freedom.”

Early voting started Monday and ends Friday, May 20. Voters did not have to vote in the primary election in order to vote in the runoff, but do have to choose one party’s ballot over the other. The runoff election is on Tuesday, May 24.

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