Sen. Cornyn Expected To Win Tuesday's GOP Primary In Texas

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn is ahead of his leading challenger Steve Stockman, heading into Tuesday's Republican primary. Stockman was once a Tea Party favorite but he no longer enjoys their support.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We've reported on this program about what is resembling a civil war shaping up in the Republican Party this midterm election year. In some places, Tea Party conservatives are targeting fellow Republicans in primary races. Case in point: Texas, where there's a Republican primary vote today.

Senator John Cornyn is running for reelection. He's the GOP's number two man in the Senate. Tea Party supporters in his state want to elect someone more in line with their freshman senator, Ted Cruz. But carrying out that battle plan has proven pretty difficult, as NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: There's no need to call Central Casting to find the leading man of your new Netflix political blockbuster, "House of Cowboy Boots." U.S. Senator John Cornyn is already perfect for the part. Tall, good-looking, white-haired, firm chin - he's also considered one of the best friends corporate America has on Capitol Hill. That's why in Austin last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Texas Association of Business held a joint press conference.

ROB ENGSTROM: He's not afraid to stand up to the president and the EPA when they're wrong, when they over-regulate the businesses and the members of both of our organizations. He's also not afraid to take on the trial lawyers.

GOODWYN: Rob Engstrom is the chamber's political director.

ENGSTROM: On behalf of the 3 million businesses of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, I'm proud to be back in Texas and endorse John Cornyn in his race for United States Senate. Senator?

(APPLAUSE)

GOODWYN: It's not just the business community. Cornyn is also the NRA's man. He gets a gun-loving score of A-plus, and he gets a perfect score of 100 from National Right to Life, too. And it won't surprise you to discover that the incumbent senator has a campaign war chest that runs deep into the seven figures. So why in the world does this loyal conservative have six Republican primary challengers?

DALE HULS: He is part of the French caucus of the Republican Party. These guys never pass up an opportunity not to fight. That's not a profile in courage, in my book.

GOODWYN: Dale Huls is a leader of the Clear Lake Tea Party in a suburb of Houston. And this is what chaps the fannies of the Tea Party faithful. Instead of standing with Ted Cruz, who was trying to take it to the Democrats, John Cornyn voted to keep the federal government open. For Dale Huls, that was plenty enough to want someone else.

HULS: We were looking for someone to rise up and give Senator Cornyn a challenge. We felt like we were extremely lucky with Senator Cruz, and we were kind of hoping to get lightning to strike twice.

GOODWYN: Initial hope centered on Congressman Steve Stockman, a political gadfly from Houston who jumped into the race at the last minute. But over time, it became clear that throwing his hat in the ring was about all Stockman intended to do. If you call Stockman's Senate campaign, this is all you can get.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You've reached Stockman for U.S. Senate. We are so glad you called, but as you might imagine, we're getting lots of phone calls. Please leave a message, and we'll get back with you just as quickly as we can.

GOODWYN: The frustration with Stockman reached its crescendo late last week when a group of Texas Tea Party leaders sent out a press release disavowing Stockman and complaining that he'd run, quote, "the laziest statewide campaign to date."

BRANDON ROTTINGHAUS: I'm not sure what Steve Stockman is thinking.

GOODWYN: Brandon Rottinghaus is a political science professor at the University of Houston who's been following the Cornyn race closely.

ROTTINGHAUS: He's been noticeably absent from several forum, and he has not made much of an effort to be a presence in the media. He hasn't made much of an effort to court the Tea Party elites locally and statewide that he would need in order to really make a good showing against John Cornyn.

GOODWYN: Whether in Texas or Kentucky, Kansas, Mississippi or South Carolina, Tea Party leaders are discovering that hating their incumbent Republican U.S. senator does not necessarily translate into beating said incumbent. It's not that the passion and energy aren't there. It's the competent, well-financed competitive candidates who seem to be missing in action. If there's a moral, it's that insurgent U.S. senate candidates like Ted Cruz don't grow on trees. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

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