Senate GOP primary features contrasting candidates


by MARK WIGGINS and photojournalist DEREK RASOR

KVUE News Austin

Posted on December 26, 2013 at 7:48 PM

AUSTIN -- When he formally announced his bid for a third term last month, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was praised by state's most powerful Republican. 
"He's one of the most conservative members of the United States Senate," Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) told supporters at Cornyn's campaign launch party in Austin. 
Now a Republican challenger is accusing Cornyn of turning his back on his GOP colleague, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), over the ill-fated attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act that ended in a government shutdown. Cornyn characterized the break with Cruz as a "disagreement over tactics," promising that both remain committed to ultimate goal of repealing the health care law.
Still relatively unknown outside his Southeast Texas district, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) has earned a reputation as a popular rabble-rouser within the Tea Party. His headlines this year include a controversial contest to give away a free Bushmaster AR-15 rifle and threatening the president with impeachment over his push for new gun control measures.
"I think there's going to be a lot of people that are going to call for his impeachment, not just me," Stockman told FOX News host Greta Van Susteren during a January interview in which he likened the president's political tactics to Saddam Hussein.
"He's a loose cannon in a lot of ways. He will speak his mind, even if it is not the most popular point of view out there," said St. Edward's University political science professor Brian Smith, who warned that could cut both ways. "That doesn't play well when you need a lot of people to support you. It might work well in your congressional district, but not statewide."
Now gunning for Cornyn in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Stockman himself has become the target of friendly fire. A website titled "Shady Stockman" erected by Cornyn allies this month draws attention to financial disclosure and ethics issues connected to the congressman. The Dallas Morning News reported the political action committee (PAC) Texans for a Conservative Majority launched the site with the help of a $2 million donation from major Republican donor Bob Perry.
Stockman responded to the website with a fundraising email to supporters last week accusing Cornyn himself of being "shady." In the graphically worded message, Stockman claimed Cornyn and his "anti-Ted Cruz PAC cronies and his $2 million in pro-amnesty cash are knifing me in the back." 
Yet conservative leaders and interest groups don't seem to be sold, and few seem interested in picking a fight with Texas' senior senator. The National Rifle Association has endorsed Cornyn, while the lesser known Gun Owners of America is backing Stockman. Club for Growth PAC declined to pick a candidate.
"While Congressman Stockman has a pro-economic growth record, so does Sen. Cornyn, as witnessed by his 87 percent lifetime Club for Growth score,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in an emailed statement. "Our PAC evaluates three factors when looking at races that involve incumbents: 1) the strength of the incumbent’s record; 2) the degree of difference between the incumbent and the challenger on economic issues; and 3) the viability of the challenger. None of those factors weigh against Sen. Cornyn, so we do not expect to be involved in the Texas Senate race."
Meanwhile, Cornyn's campaign starts with a $7 million war chest to advertise his experience and record in office. Cornyn struck a characteristically measured tone at his campaign launch in November, downplaying differences within the GOP and insisting the Republican Party must be seen as the voice of reason amid the chaos in Washington.
"We will be the responsible adults in the room," said Cornyn. "We will actually govern." 
"John Cornyn still holds all the advantages," said Smith. "He is the incumbent. He has the name recognition and he has the money to draw on. We're talking about a candidate who has real money versus a candidate who has no money, and that's what the race is right now." 
According to Politico, a December survey by Republican pollsters found Cornyn leading Stockman among GOP primary voters 50 percent to six percent, with 39 percent undecided. Early voting for the 2014 primary begins Feb. 18, with the primary itself March 4. If neither candidate wins a 50 percent majority, the race will head to a runoff in May.