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Tea Party Candidates Fare Well In Texas Elections

DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - While Tea Party candidates have not fared well against traditional Republicans in some states, they have apparently gained a foothold in Texas; Greg Abbott (Governor), Dan Patrick (Lieutenant Governor), and Ken Paxton (Attorney General) all had Tea Party support. Why is it apparently so strong here?

"I think there's a lot of people out there who are not Tea Party in name, but they're Tea Party in spirit. And that is what I think really helped the Tea Party in this election," UTA professor Allan Saxe told CBS 11 News. Saxe feels Tea Party-supported candidates have fared better in Texas than in other states because Texas fielded veteran candidates, not political novices.

"So there's a strong core group here," Saxe said. "And I think they saw an opening, they had some good, strong candidates. And they took the fight."

Saxe also feels mainstream media have focused on Tea Party shortcomings. "The national media probably doesn't like the Tea Party very much, and they're hunting for places where the Tea Party is weak. And they jumped on it."

Katrina Pierson was an unsuccessful Tea Party congressional candidate in the March primary. But she rejoiced in Tuesday's outcomes. "It's a lot of hard work in the Tea Parties and grassroots all over Texas, and it's finally paying off. We have elected our first candidate statewide and it feels absolutely amazing," she said.

"A lot of Tea Partiers are traditional Republicans," echoed Ken Emanuelson, who is on the Dallas Tea Party Steering Committee. He claims the Tea Party is more an independent mindset that both parties in government are a problem. "It's very focused on a few fairly key issues: Spending and debt is probably the big one that unifies Tea Partiers. Here in Texas illegal immigration is a big one for Tea Partiers."

Emanuelson also argued that news accounts of a Tea Party-backed candidate losing the GOP Senate race in Kentucky, to veteran Mitch McConnell, recently did not reflect the true power of Tea Party supporters. "It doesn't get any more Tea Party than Rand Paul [the other U.S. Senator in Kentucky who supported McConnell] so trying to portray that race as a cut-and-dried Tea Party versus Establishment race is a little difficult."

The challenge for the GOP is to harness the Tea Party momentum and marry it with independents and traditional Republicans for a big win in November.

But local Democrats think they have a way to snap that effort. A number of Democrats feel Republicans like Dan Patrick have moved too far right, especially with his tough stand on illegal immigration.

"The Republican Party as we know it is gone. It is the Tea Party," said Taylor Holden, the executive director of the Dallas County Democratic Party. "And so while we saw them make a lot of gains in their primaries, they're going to have to answer to a lot more voters, independents, Democrats, [and] some people who have never voted before. And we don't think their chances are going to look as good as it did in the primaries." She added, "And we don't think that their chances of being able to relate to mainstream Texans, the majority of Texans, are good."

Republicans have swept statewide races for two decades; Democrats have owned Dallas County since 2006. November's election could plow new ground for both.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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