The Week in Politics: Super Tuesday Results You May Have Missed

The most important election news and political dynamics at the state and local levels.
by | March 4, 2016
Texas state House Speaker Joe Straus, center, and most of his allies survived primary challenges this week from conservatives who think that Straus is too liberal. (David Kidd)

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Southern Republicans Beat More Conservative Challengers

Prominent officials in Arkansas and Texas turned back conservative challenges to their authority in Republican primaries Tuesday.

In Texas, state House Speaker Joe Straus and most of his allies survived a primary fight brought by conservatives who complained that Straus is too liberal. Some Republicans complain that Straus -- who's less hardline than his Senate counterpart -- has been insufficiently loyal to some conservative causes, such as school choice.

Right-wing groups, including Empower Texans, spent heavily on primary challenges against Straus and his allies. All told, an eye-popping $8 million was spent on just the four races that involved Straus and three members of his leadership team.

One of them, state Rep. Byron Cook, prevailed by just 222 votes. Most, though, enjoyed healthier margins. State Rep. Charlie Geren achieved a comparatively comfortable win over Bo French, a former business partner of "American Sniper" Chris Kyle, whose widow complained that French had cheated her in business.

Two other Straus allies, however, were unseated (Reps. Marsha Farney and Debbie Riddle), and two are headed for runoffs in May (Reps. Doug Miller and Wayne Smith). Most of the lawmakers openly opposed to Straus' regime survived their primary fights, with the exceptions of Reps. Molly White and Stuart Spitzer.

Now that the intraprimary fight between the Austin establishment crowd and the insurgents is over, "the balance of power in the GOP Texas House Civil War remains roughly unchanged," said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University. "There is no doubt whatsoever that Joe Straus will continue as speaker of the Texas House."

In Arkansas, most of the candidates favored by Gov. Asa Hutchinson prevailed in state legislative contests that were seen as a test of support for his health-care plan.

Hutchinson wants to modify -- but not kill -- the state's private-option program, which uses federal funding to subsidize private health insurance for lower-income people. It has been used by several other states opposed to traditional Medicaid expansion.

The governor's plan needs support from 75 percent of lawmakers in a special session next month. That's still a tall order, but Hutchinson helped his own cause by intervening in GOP legislative primaries.

He endorsed and campaigned for eight candidates who back the health plan. Six of them won, including five sitting state House members. State Rep. Lance Eads, a Hutchinson ally, prevailed in an open state Senate race against a private-option opponent.

"Every time I'm asked why I didn't vote against the private option, I ask what the better alternative is," said Rep. Jane Della Rosa, one of the incumbent legislators who survived a bitter primary attack. "I haven't gotten an answer yet."

The fact that most of Hutchinson's preferred candidates were victorious, despite heavy spending against them from the conservative Conduit for Action and Americans for Prosperity, signals that supporting the private option isn't necessarily a career-killer for Arkansas Republicans.

"It was the win he needed to set the stage for others," wrote former GOP state Rep. John Burris.

Other Super Tuesday Results You May Have Missed

Conservatives Win Court Battles: Conservative groups did come away with a pair of big prizes in Arkansas on Tuesday. As we noted last week, outside groups spent a record amount in two state Supreme Court races. Dan Kemp and Shawn Womack, the candidates preferred by the outside groups, both won. "Regrettably, a winner in yesterday's campaign was dark money," Hutchinson said on Wednesday.

Democrats Sweep Special Elections: Special elections were held for three Massachusetts state House seats on Tuesday. Democrats won all three, with Thomas Walsh -- who served in the legislature in the 1990s -- taking over a seat formerly held by Republican Leah Cole.

What Criminal Charges?: It looks like John Wiley Price, who has served on the Dallas County Commission for 30 years but faces federal bribery and tax evasion charges, will stay in office. Former Dallas City Councilmember Dwaine Caraway and two other challengers didn't come close in the Democratic primary. Price will "likely glide to re-election in November," according to the Dallas Morning News.

Educator With Extreme Views: Retired teacher Mary Lou Bruner -- who attracted national attention for posting on Facebook her belief that President Obama was a gay prostitute in his 20s -- may soon be serving on the Texas State Board of Education. She fell just short of the majority vote she needed to avoid a runoff for a seat but is the early favorite to win. The Texas school board has an outsized influence on the content of the nation's textbooks because of its purchasing power. Bruner has also shared controversial thoughts about "the Muslims," Native Americans, climate change and the JFK assassination. "School shootings started after the schools started teaching evolution," according to Bruner.

Crude Party Boss: Robert Morrow was elected GOP chair in Travis County, Texas, on Tuesday, despite spending his time this week tweeting about Bill Clinton's penis and the sexuality of Hillary Clinton and Rick Perry. "He has a truly incredible history of making irresponsible and outrageous statements," said Matt Mackowiak, who happens to be the vice chair of the Travis County GOP.

Christie's Trump Endorsement Backfires

New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie looked extremely uncomfortable standing behind Donald Trump at a post-election news conference on Tuesday. Maybe that's because his support for Trump is playing so poorly at home.

scathing joint editorial published by six New Jersey newspapers called for Christie's resignation. "We're fed up with his long neglect of the state to pursue his own selfish agenda," they wrote, calling him "an embarrassment" and "an utter disgrace."

Christine Todd Whitman, Christie's predecessor as GOP governor of the state, piled on, saying she was "ashamed" of his endorsement of Trump and writing an editorial for Time entitled "Chris Christie Is a Desperate Opportunist."

In addition to disapproval from state elites, Christie's stock is plummeting with voters. Thirty percent of New Jersey residents approve of his handling of the state, compared with 61 percent who disapprove, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll released Wednesday. After the Trump endorsement, Christie's approval rating fell to just 27 percent among those surveyed.

At a news conference on Thursday, Christie responded to the chatter about his appearance with Trump, insisting, "I wasn't being held hostage." He also rejected calls for his resignation, declaring himself "back to work."

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