HOUSTON (Nexstar) — A new statewide poll of all primary voters shows Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton could be points away from a runoff election in a four-way race to unseat him.
The University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs released the numbers Friday, showing Paxton still has a high lead above his three challengers individually. But added together, the collective challengers come two percentage points shy of tie with the incumbent.
Almost two-fifths, 39%, of all primary voters said they intend to vote for Paxton. In second place is Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who 16% said they plan to vote for. Shortly behind Bush is Congressman Louie Gohmert — 13% plan to vote for him. And lastly, 8% plan to vote for former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. The poll, conducted on Jan. 14-24, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2%.
Among “almost certain” GOP primary voters, Paxton’s percentage rises with 44% planning to vote for him. Gohmert’s also rise to 15%, whereas both Bush and Guzman saw a decrease with 13% and 7% voter intention, respectively.
All three challengers have made a point of using Paxton’s legal troubles as a key part in their messaging for why they should replace him. Meanwhile, Paxton has spent relatively little time on the defense and has narrowed in on popular issues for the GOP base like border security.
“Every time a Republican makes one of these threats on a state level to the federal government about immigration, they’re playing primary politics,” NBC News political director Chuck Todd told KXAN. “This is not a serious policy issue that the attorney general is engaging in, this is all about personal politics.”
On Friday, Paxton announced he and several other attorneys general will be again suing the Biden administration over border policy. It followed a two-day show of force in Texas border towns where he was joined by 12 Republican attorneys general slamming the commander-in-chief.
“We’re not going to stop talking about it. We’re gonna keep highlighting it until the American people are safe and secure,” Paxton said at the press conference Friday.
Todd speculates the increased focus on the border is a distraction tactic from Paxton’s federal indictment and other legal issues. Paxton is still facing a criminal case, for which he was indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015, as well as a newer FBI investigation and whistleblower lawsuit brought against him by his former aides.
“Anything he could do to create shiny metal objects I think to try to get voters to focus on an issue and not him the person, I think is pretty obvious,” Todd said. “But the immigration issue in general is treated by Republicans these days more as a wedge than as an actual problem or something to be solved.”
Both candidates Guzman and Bush have released campaign advertisements specific to border issues. Notably, Guzman’s “Politicians Talk” ad highlights a deeply personal moment in her life — when she 26-years-old, she learned her father was killed by an illegal immigrant. She then pivots to a message of fighting the Biden administration to “secure our borders.” And memorably so, Bush’s “Defend Texas” ad features him riding an ATV on the border promising to finish former President Donald Trump’s wall and stand with law enforcement.
Brian Smith, a politics professor at St. Edward’s University, said it shouldn’t be surprising that candidates are spending time and money talking about this particular subject.
“Each one right now is trying to out-tough the other on who’s toughest on the border,” he said. “The Paxton indictment has been going on so long that it really hasn’t been a winning strategy…but as strategy, the border is going to be very effective for any of the Republicans in both the primary and the general.”