Top Texas Tea Party challengers flame out

Texas's most high-profile Tea Party challengers flamed out in Tuesday's primaries, falling far short of their goals to knock off powerful incumbents.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) beat back Rep. Steve Stockman's (R-Texas) quixotic challenge by more than 40 percentage points, while Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) crushed local Tea Party leader Katrina Pierson (R) by a two-to-one margin.

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One of their keys to victory: The two influential GOP leaders took their challengers seriously and ran strong campaigns, raised and spent millions and left little ideological room for their challengers to attack them. Cornyn topped $10 million raised and ran hard, bringing in a top ally of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to help run his campaign. Sessions raised and spent $1.5 million for the race.

Cruz, the state's Tea Party hero, stayed neutral in the races and declined to even endorse Cornyn, which frustrated many establishment Republicans. 

But both results were as much about weak opponents as impressive incumbents.

Stockman ran one of the most bizarre campaigns in recent memory, announcing his bid against Cornyn just minutes before the filing deadline, raising and spending almost no money and seemingly spending more time tweeting attacks on the senior senator than campaigning in the state. He took a multi-week overseas congressional trip during the short primary season, and made almost no campaign stops around the state.

Cornyn took a few shots at Stockman in his victory speech.

"Texans continue to be practical in their approach — they're looking for solutions, not just speeches," he said.

"Sometimes people will lie about your record. It does happen and not everything on the Internet or on Twitter is factual," he continued.

Stockman tweeted his resignation and disappointment with the results before the polls were even closed in all parts of the state, a sign of how seriously he took the race.

"With less than 90 days to run and under attack from false ads we weren't able to run like we wanted," he said.

Pierson ran a more serious campaign than Stockman, winning endorsements from FreedomWorks and Tea Party Express as well as from Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) father, Rafael Cruz, and conservative blogger Michelle Malkin. But she failed to articulate a clear message for why the conservative Sessions should be replaced and struggled mightily with fundraising, raising less than $150,000 in the entirety of her campaign.

It wasn't all dim for Tea Party acolytes in Texas. Though their weak playbook against top targets failed, down-ballot conservative challengers were more successful.

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R), who Cruz defeated in his Senate primary in 2012, trailed social conservative Dan Patrick (R) by a double-digit margin in his reelection race, and will head to a runoff. The results show that all the money Cruz and his allies spent against Dewhurst badly damaged his reputation in the state — and that the wealthy self-funded wasn't that great a candidate to begin with, part of the reason Cruz won two years ago. 

A pair of conservative candidates made the GOP runoff for Texas attorney general.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), Congress's oldest member at age 90, was also forced into a runoff race by former U.S. Attorney John Ratcliffe (R). Ratcliffe has been running to Hall's right, but the 48-year-old's campaign has been much more about age and virility than ideology.