Is Straus Sunk?

One should never attempt to engage in political prognostication, and Tuesday evening we’ll know the primary fate of candidates from the highest office to the last on the ballot. Yet no one has more to lose on March 1st than San Antonio State Rep. Joe Straus, the incumbent speaker of the Texas House.

Straus has two conservative challengers in his primary: former think-tank executive Jeff Judson and grassroots leader Shelia Bean.

In the closing days of the Republican primary, Straus’ campaign has grown increasingly shrill. Rather than projecting the calm confidence of a powerful man expecting to win by double-digits, Straus has released a series of petulant attacks on his opponents while falsely claiming a record unsupported by legislative facts.

It’s not just Straus who is staring down a very bad night on Tuesday. His closest allies are running scared ahead of a tsunami of conservative voters demanding long-stalled reform.

Here are a few facts to consider:

Straus has reportedly spent $3.7 million on his re-election. Meanwhile, his closest lieutenants – Fort Worth’s Charlie Geren and Corsicana’s Byron Cook – have spent around $1.1 million each. It is reasonable to assume that Straus breaks closer to $4 million by Tuesday, while Geren and Cook will both get closer to $2 million each.

Austin gossip-mongers say Straus’ internal polls have him heading into a run-off (as publicly evidenced by his now vicious personal attacks on Judson). The same goes for the nasty (and untrue) attacks Geren and Cook have launched against their opponents.

While feigning confidence at their respective country clubs, Geren, Cook and Straus (especially) are projecting weakness by the pettiness of their campaigns.

This has the second-tier of Straus’ leadership team grumbling. Think about the money being spent. With the exception of Rep. Doug Miller, who is running scared and spending big in the face of two strong challengers, none of Straus’ challenged outer-circle of sycophants have been able to spend even half what his closest allies have dropped on their reelection bids.

If he doesn’t win by double digits, Straus stands to be Texas’ biggest political loser in 2016. If he wins, Straus will have spent close to $4 million – outspending his opponents by a factor of 10 or 20 to one – to barely achieve reelection. Worse, if he goes into a runoff he will do so with the knowledge incumbents historically lose such contests. And every other Texas politician knows it, too. Just ask former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

For what he is spending, Straus’ coalition of Democrats and liberal Republicans crumbles if he doesn’t win double-digits, massive blow-out big.

Straus is scared. Scared, in part, because the lobbyists and trial lawyers who puff him up have already selected their guy to replace him. His name is Walter “Four” Price, and the establishment coalition – suspecting Straus may lose – started last year publicly pushing Price as their preferred replacement.

With his establishment successor licking his chops, the prospect of his closest allies going down, sycophants like Dan Flynn meeting their political demise, and challengers nipping at his heels, Straus is acting like a man who believes his ship is sinking.

We’ll see just how badly he has been scuttled on Tuesday.

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Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael is president and CEO of Empower Texans. A graduate of Texas A&M, former newspaper reporter, one-time Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president, and an Eagle Scout, Sullivan is married with three children. He divides his time between the Metroplex, the rest of Texas, and Austin.

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