How Ethics Allegations Changed the Branch/Paxton Attorney General Runoff

May 2, 2014

The battle for the Republican nomination for Attorney General was similar to most GOP primaries this year: a race to the right, with each candidate trying to lay claim to the title of most conservative.

But with less than a month until the primary runoff, one candidate has been busy fending off allegations that he broke the law. 

When the dust settled after the March primaries, Republican state Sen. Ken Paxton had finished 11 points ahead of State Rep. Dan Branch. Sen. Paxton's win was in large part thanks to some flattering statements from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz – statements that quickly became a Paxton TV ad.

And all things being equal, that primary night lead would hold in the runoff election. Voter turnout is generally lower in a runoff than on primary day, and voters who do turn out are expected to be more conservative.

Advantage: Paxton.

But then about two weeks ago, The Texas Tribune uncovered documents that show Paxton had not disclosed work soliciting clients for an investment advisor, or the income he earned from that work.

Those are some pretty serious allegations – especially for a candidate hoping to be the state's lawyer. And a great opportunity for Branch to make a comeback.

"This tax stuff against Paxton is really the best that the Branch side has," Dallas Morning News senior political writer Wayne Slater says.

With just a month left, Branch doesn’t have time to convince people to vote for him. Instead, his campaign is focused on why people shouldn't vote for Paxton. But Slater thinks Tea Party voters backing Paxton may not be swayed to vote against their champion.

"Do you vote for the crook or do you vote for the political moderate?" Slater says. "And it's funny at this moment– the expectation is that the electorate that shows up for this runoff is going to be so conservative, so committed, the kind of people who are going to show up in a runoff are going to be the voters who would rather vote against a moderate, even if it's for a perceived or accused crook." 

"We can't have a Republican standard-bearer be tarnished and under a cloud as we head into November were he to be the Republican nominee," Branch tells KUT. "So we need to get this issue resolved now before the voters before they make up their mind on May 27th," He says he's been urging Paxton to clear the air, so the two candidates can get back to talking about the real issues in the race.

But naturally, Branch is taking advantage of the situation, saying he worries what could happen if Paxton were to win the runoff.

Paxton's campaign did not return requests for an interview. But his supporters are rallying to his side, with one booster calling the reports a "coordinated effort by the liberal media." But so far the Paxton campaign hasn't denied anything – and has said it's taking the allegations seriously.