February 26, 2020

GOP Governor and Texas Republican Speaker Pair
Sink Substantial Sums into House Primary Contests

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

Governor Greg Abbott and the two most recent Texas House leaders have been sharing the wealth with selective Republicans who are doing battle with first-round foes in the competition for the lower chamber in the Super Tuesday primary election in Texas next week.

The Republican governor contributed more than $230,000 in the past week to nine House campaigns in chunks of $26,000 on average after spending $50,000 on a special election runoff in a district that the GOP successfully defended. All but one of the House contenders who Abbott is backing appear to have realistic chances for success in races for the Legislature's lower chamber this year.

But Abbott raised eyebrows when he earmarked more than $11,000 for Missouri City Republican Manish Seth's campaign in a House district where Democrat Beto O'Rourke claimed almost 80 percent of the vote at the top of the last Texas ticket as the U.S. Senate nominee in 2018. Abbott wasted almost $14,000 last year on a special House election runoff that the Republican in overtime had no chance to win. But that was a drop in the bucket for a governor that headed into January with nearly $33 million in a record war chest less than halfway through a second term.

GOP House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and predecessor Joe Straus control political committees that both have donated $90,000 to incumbent Republicans who've been allies for first-round fights on Tuesday's ballot. Nine House Republicans received $5,000 apiece from the Straus group Texas Forever Forward in the past two months while a half-dozen incumbent representatives landed $15,000 apiece from Bonnen's Texas Leads PAC in January.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has been steering clear of the House battlefield where his current and former House counterparts are spending money protecting friends while Abbott channels campaign cash to Republicans who've been aligned with the establishment in the current election season.

Three Republicans entered the five-day stretch before the Tuesday vote as apparent favorites in open Texas House races thanks in significant part to sizeable contributions from the governor in the past week. House hopefuls Jake Ellzey of Midlothian, Lacey Hull of Houston and Jacey Jetton of Sugar Land joined an elite group of candidates who've reaped double-digit sums of Abbott money this month for primary fights in bids for seats that incumbent Republicans aren't seeking again in 2020.

Hull and Jetton have appeared to be the strongest candidates on paper in primary bids in open contests in House districts that the Democrats have to win to keep their hopes alive in a quest to take the majority back with a net gain of nine seats or more in the general election.

Abbott also has contributed to Republican contenders Angelica Garcia of Katy and Kronda Thimesch of Carrollton in districts that Democrats flipped from red to blue in major upsets in 2018. Garcia and Jetton garnered donations this month of $25,000 and $24,000 respectively from the governor who contributed $19,000 to Thimesch and $17,000 to Hull in February. Abbott spent $42,000 on campaign advertising and other needs for Jake Ellzey - a Midlothian Republican who could end up in a runoff with primary rival Ryan Pitts of Waxahachie if neither fails to top 50 percent in next week's election.

The governor has contributed $30,000 on average last week to State Reps. Briscoe Cain of Deer Park, Dennis Paul of Houston and Jared Patterson of Frisco - a trio of Republicans who've encountered significant first-round opposition in re-election races that have the potential to be close at the polls next week. The Bonnen PAC had donated to Patterson, Cain and Paul a month ago.

Seth is Abbott's token long shot in 2020 as a CPA who's been a local chamber of commerce director in Fort Bend County on the suburban outskirts of the Houston area. Seth has raised more than $104,000 - an amazing amount for a would-be challenger in a House district where Democratic Ron Reynolds of Missouri City easily won his last re-election race with ease despite the distraction of jail time in heavily-Republican Montgomery County for an ambulance-chasing conviction in connection with his work as a lawyer. Reynolds, who's had less than half as much cash for the current campaign as Seth, will be a prohibitive favorite this fall regardless of money or the strength of the eventual GOP nominee.

The governor could be giving money to Seth despite the all but insurmountable odds as way of buying goodwill for the GOP in the ever-growing Asian and Indian populations in Texas where Fort Bend County leads the state in that regard.

GOP State Reps. Dan Flynn of Van, Chris Paddie of Marshal and Phil Stephenson of Wharton have taken contributions from both of the PACs that Bonnen and Straus control. The ex-speaker's Texas Forever Forward PAC also contributed to State Reps. Steve Allison of San Antonio, Drew Darby of San Angelo, Dan Huberty of Humble, Geanie Morrison of Victoria and J.D. Sheffield of Gatesville.

Allison, a freshman lawmaker who's Straus' hometown successor, is the only member of that group who's running unopposed in round one. But Allison will have a Democrat waiting in the wings in a district that will be high on the minority party hit list in November. Sheffield and Flynn appear to be in the most potential trouble in primary showdowns with multiple opponents in races that could require runoffs.

The Straus PAC also has taken sides in an open House race in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with a $10,000 contribution this month to Bedford Republican Jim Griffin as the establishment choice in a first-round battle with conservative rival Jeff Cason.

Abbott in the meantime appears to be trying to guide the GOP away from the hard right in Texas without contributing to internal GOP warring like he did in 2018 when he spent several hundred thousand dollars in a failed attempt to knock off a pair of relatively moderate House Republicans who'd been Straus House allies in the primary election that year.


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