A Texas-Sized Primary Challenge, Or Much Ado About Nothing?

Congressman Steve Stockman's primary challenge of Senator John Cornyn could be a big deal, or, more likely, it could be a dud.

Steve Stockman John Cornyn

The second ranking Republican in the Senate, Texas Senator John Cornyn, has come under a lot of critiicism from the Tea Party wing of the GOP over the past several years. In 2010, when he headed the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he openly backed mainstream candidates like then Florida Governor Charlie Crist over Tea Party favored candidates like Marco Rubio, for example. In more recent years, he’s joined Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as a frequent target of attack for alleged ideological impurity and willingness to compromise, most recently when, like many long serving Republican Senators, he did not back the “Defund Obamacare” scheme that was being pushed by Senator Ted Cruz, Senate Conservatives Fund, Freedomworks, and other outside groups. Despite that, though, it was beginning to look as though Cornyn would actually make it through 2014 without a serious primary challenger. That all changed last night as the filing deadline for a primary challenge ticked down to zero and Congressman Steve Stockman, who had just returned to Congress this year after a nearly 20 year absence, announced his intention to challenge Cornyn for the nomination:

Firebrand Texas Republican Rep. Steve Stockman on Monday mounted a surprise primary challenge to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), setting the stage for the latest potentially explosive battle between a tea party darling and an incumbent firmly backed by the GOP establishment.

Stockman, a far-right conservative who has called for the president’s impeachment, filed for the seat minutes before the 6 p.m. local deadline, confirmed Spencer Yeldell, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas. Cornyn, whose $7 million cash-on-hand far outstrips Stockman’s $32,000, is still the heavy favorite, but the latter’s entry into the race could force the incumbent senator to tack farther right as he tries to win over a corner of the party that has recently been skeptical of him.

Stockman’s move shocked Texas political observers: Cornyn had looked poised for an easy March 4 primary contest, where he was set to square off with several candidates with little name recognition. Just 20 minutes before the filing deadline, Texas GOP chair Steve Munisteri told POLITICO that he was “not expecting any recognizable names or people with substantial resources running aside from the senator.”

But Stockman is a highly recognizable name in some circles, and he looks to be a game-changer. The 57-year-old made waves earlier this year when he returned to the House — where he previously served from 1995-1997 — with his calls to impeach President Barack Obama. And he’s not been shy about his other deeply conservative, and sometimes controversial, views on issues ranging from gun rights to immigration. He has also likened Obama to Saddam Hussein and urged America to withdraw from the United Nations.

Stockman’s move came after several Tea Party favorites, including Congressman Louie Gohmert decided to take a pass on challenging Cornyn, who has been re-elected to the Senate by wide margins each time he has stood for election and who has also built up one of the largest campaign war chests of any Senate Republican running in 2014 outside of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. According to the most recent reports, Cornyn has some $7,000,000 cash on hand while Stockman has a mere $32,000 in his campaign coffers while simultaneously owing some $163,000 and suffering from numerous campaign finance problems and reports of irregularities.

On some level, a challenge from the right against Cornyn seems quite odd. As  Matthew DesOrmeaux at United Liberty notes, Cornyn rates at or near the 90 to 100% level on the ratings compiled by every conservative organization out there, and has widely been seen as one of the most conservative member of the Senate for quite some time, or at least until this latest crop of “conservative” Senators led by Ted Cruz and others came along. At the same time, though, some recent polling of the political environment down in Texas seems to indicate that Texas Republicans would like to see “someone more conservative” replace Cornyn in the Senate, although the same poll shows Cornyn leading Stockman by a fairly sizable margin. Finally, although Stockman remains relatively unknown nationally outside of the Twitter outbursts for which he has gotten much media coverage, he’s fairly well known among Texas Republicans, especially the Tea Party wing of that party. Given the fact that he will be the only serious challenger to Cornyn, that alone is likely to help him in the months that come.

Not surprisingly, many national political observers are foreseeing an epic battle, but there are several factors about this race that makes it doubtful that Stockman is going to be as strong a challenger as many expect him to be. For one thing, Stockman’s announcement comes fairly late in the game. Where Ted Cruz announced what many considered even up to the last minute a long shot bid to win the GOP nomination for the chance to replace Kay Bailey Hutchinson in the 2012 elections more than a year before the primary, Stockman is making his announcement less than three months before the March 4, 2014 primary date, giving him little time to overcome not only any remaining name recognition issues but also the vast fundraising gap between him and Cornyn. No doubt, Stockman is hoping on support from outside groups to make up for that gap, but so far at least, it isn’t at all clear that they are going to rally to his side. Senate Conservatives Fund, for example, welcomed him to the race last night but declined to go so far as to endorse him or say that they would be getting involved in the race in his favor. Another group that has provided crucial to Tea Party candidates in the past, The Club For Growth, announced this morning that they would not be opposing Cornyn in the primary battle, a huge setback for Stockman. Freedomworks and other Tea Party groups have yet to chime in on the race, but one gets the impression that they will stay out of the race unless they think he has a realistic shot of taking down a Senator who, while imperfect in their eyes, can hardly be described as a “Republican In Name Only.” Cornyn, meanwhile, can likely count on the support of more mainstream conservative groups that have begun asserting themselves in Republican politics since the shutdown fiasco in addition to his own already vast war chest, which he can no doubt easily expand upon.

So, rather than setting off a Texas-sized Tea Party v. Establishment battle that it may sound like, this could end up being about as exciting as watch tumbleweed blow across the plains of West Texas. Stay tuned.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    Only Stockman is more f’ed up than Cornyn. They are both idiots…it’s only a matter of degree. Both the Senate and Texas are worse off with them than without them.
    And remember…Cornyn voted against re-opening the Government.
    Idiots. Of course they are Republicans…so that is redundant.

  2. al-Ameda says:

    Steve Stockman almost, ALMOST, makes John Cornyn seem to be a moderate Republican.

    In fact, one of Stockman’s campaign bumper stickers was:
    “If babies had guns, they wouldn’t be aborted”

    Actually, if babies had enriched plutonium, guns would be irrelevant.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    Actually babies cannot be aborted. Fetuses can. Babies, not so much.
    Which only confirms my point…Stockman is an idiot.

  4. grumpy realist says:

    Am I a bad person that I want to see Stockman squished in this election? Squished so completely that you need a molecular microscope to find the remains?

  5. al-Ameda says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Actually babies cannot be aborted. Fetuses can. Babies, not so much.
    Which only confirms my point…Stockman is an idiot.

    Sorry, that was a late term error on my part.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    Easy to understand if you look less at policy and more at the emotional underpinnings. Tea Party folk operate from fear and its byproduct, anger. They are terrified of modernity and their anger demands action. What’s a Texas Tea Partier going to do with all that impotent rage? It’s a one party state, so they have no choice in their minds but to attack Cornyn. If the elect their guy they will in turn attack him. Don’t look for logic, forget it: It’s crazy town, Jake. It’s crazy town.

  7. CSK says:

    The people who are rooting for Stockman regard Cornyn as the ideological soulmate of Harry Reid. They purport to be unable to distinguish between the two.

  8. JohnMcC says:

    Invest in popcorn!

  9. Pinky says:

    Very little ado about nothing.

  10. Ron Beasley says:

    I suspect Stockman is to crazy even for Texas. He might be able to win a crazy gerrymandered House district but not a Statewide election.

  11. michael reynolds says:

    By the way, doom approaches the GOP and the Tea Party: Obamacare.

    And the GOP backpedaling has already begun: The First of what will eventually be more GOP Senators conceding defeat.

  12. PJ says:

    Rep. Stockman Comes Out Swinging, Hits Cornyn As ‘Liberal’

    “Dear patriot, You are in a foxhole fighting to save our constitutional Republic… …and the last thing you need is a Republican bayonet in your back,” Stockman writes in the fundraising email sent out Tuesday, a day after he jumped into the Texas Republican primary against Cornyn. “But that’s what liberal John Cornyn has been doing to you every day.”

    Batshit. Crazy. Insanity.

  13. Davebo says:


    Not where I live it isn’t.

    But hey, what ever helps you pull that lever…

  14. Scott says:

    What people don’t realize is that a lot of these people who run are basically narcissists. They crave attention, are basically losers in real life. This guy is Ted Cruz without any talent. He’ll get a lot of coverage because there would be total boredom here in Texas without a challenger. This won’t last long. The best thing Cornyn can do is run on his own record and don’t acknowledge Stockman’s existence.

  15. Rob in CT says:

    I’ll hope for a nasty battle that harms the GOP, of course, but isn’t it highly likely Cornyn crushes this guy?

    Cornyn is already full metal wingnut. Or what I thought was full metal wingnut. As I keep having to learn, there is no Peak Wingnut. There’s always somebody out there who is (or is willing to pretent to be) even more bugf*ck crazy.

  16. C. Clavin says:

    No doubt that’s the best course of action.
    Which means Cornyn will not do it…and will tack further right than he already is.

  17. stonetools says:

    the last thing you need is a Republican bayonet in your back,”

    Do you know who also used a “stab in the back” metaphor?
    This Republican infighting is delicious to me. Hoping it helps the Democrats in the 2014 elections.

  18. Tyrell says:

    There is an alternative that people who fed up with both parties need to consider. It is the southern wing of the Democrat party. It has not only alive, but doing well in many local areas. It is the original Democrats of the regular party, which self destructed in the early ’70’s when radical groups took over the leadership. This is the heritage of statesmen that include Richard Russell, Lyndon Johnson, John Connally, Sam Ervin, William Fulbright, Russell Long, Wilbur Mills, and Sam Nunn. These are the kind of leaders we need now. The Southern Democrats remain centrists, moderates, and pragmatic. Think about it: politics could be honorable again. Government could be effective.

  19. josh says:

    Gotta hand it to you Doug. You’re the only one I’ve heard talking about this. As someone who loves watching the Right get attacked from the Right, even I can’t take a race of $7M in the bank versus $36k seriously.