HOUSTON — While some Tea Party-backed candidates have lost recent primaries in other states, the movement continues to dominate Republican Party politics in Texas. Voters who identify with the movement and its values came out in force during the primary election that ended Tuesday, handing victory to some of their favorites.
There was no clearer sign of the enduring strength of the Tea Party movement in Texas than the victory of state Senator Dan Patrick for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.
"My voice is not going - it is the people's voice - is not going to the office of lieutenant governor come November when we beat the Democrats, it is the people's voice," said Patrick.
Patrick, a conservative radio talk show host and state senator from Houston, beat his rival, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, by 30 points. It is the first time in recent Texas history that an incumbent has been defeated in a primary. Strong Tea Party support for Patrick sealed his victory, while Tea Party-backed candidates in Georgia, North Carolina and Kentucky were defeated.
Political analyst Mark Jones, who teaches at Rice University in Houston, says the Texas Tea Party had better candidates.
"In those states, the Tea Party candidates in many cases were rather flawed, while here in Texas we had some very credible and very talented Tea Party candidates," said Jones.
There have been splits in some Texas Tea Party groups, leading to speculation that the movement's influence might diminish. But Jones says what matters is the resonance of Tea Party themes among voters who may never join a group, but who support the goals of the movement.
"The Tea Party movement is best thought of as an approach to politics which varies depending on what part of the state you are in and which Tea Party group you are in in the same county. But it shares a general support for limited government and skepticism for the status quo and business as usual," he said.
Jones says the defeated David Dewhurst represented the status quo to many Tea Party members. He tried to court them and tout his own conservatism, but conservative voters were sold on Patrick.
Mark Jones says Republican voters' rejection of experienced party stalwarts like Dewhurst could hurt the party down the road, especially if newly elected Tea Party favorites take divisive actions that alienate more moderate voters.
"I think one hope that Democrats have is that someone like Dan Patrick as lieutenant governor gets to Austin [the Texas state capital] and is a sufficiently polarizing force that he drives a lot of moderates and centrist Republicans as well as independents to the Democratic Party," said Jones.
But Jones does not see that happening soon, even as the state's demography shifts in favor of Democrats. Jones says it may take until 2020 or 2022 for Democrats to gain enough strength to overcome the strong voter base of the Tea Party-dominated Republicans and win a statewide office.