Mon March 10, 2014 11:50 am By Paul Burka

Rick Perry received warm reviews for his speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday. It was a relatively short speech, and the entire video is online here. He concluded his remarks in his typically rousing manner.

“It is time for Washington to focus on the few things the Constitution establishes as the federal government’s role: defend our country, provide a cogent foreign policy, and what the heck, deliver the mail – preferably on time and on Saturdays," he said. “Get out of the health care business, get out of the education business. Stop hammering industry. Let the sleeping giant of American enterprise create prosperity again. My fellow conservatives, the future of this nation is upon you, it belongs to you. You have the power to change America.”

Some thoughts, after the jump.

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Fri March 7, 2014 8:49 am By Brian D. Sweany

In the April 1994 cover story, Paul Burka wrote about the Democratic governor who had come up through the party's liberal wing and had gained a national profile after a feisty and funny keynote speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. That's where she went to work on George H.W. Bush: "I'm delighted to be here with you this evening because after listening to George Bush all these years I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like" and "Poor George. He cain't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth" (her delivery on that last line is perfect; she takes 23 seconds to utter those sixteen words). Six years later, as Richards prepared to face George W. Bush in the 1994 general election, Burka discovered a politician whose outlook had changed, who had been hurt as much if not more by her own people than her partisan opponents. As she told Burka: "I’ve always said that in politics, your enemies can’t hurt you, but your friends will kill you.” Burka writes:

Ann Richards’ popularity remains high. Her lead over George W. Bush holds steady in the polls. But inside, something has changed. She has lost the exuberance of her first months in office. During her speech, Richards made a modest promise or two, the audience clapped politely at several points, and a couple of jokes elicited light ripples of laughter. But she never really roused the crowd or herself. Who would have thought that Ann Richards, the first Texas governor to come up through the liberal wing of the Democratic party, would go to La Joya to deliver a speech that seemed to say, “Ask not what your government can do for you, because it can’t do very much”?

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Wed March 5, 2014 7:53 am By Paul Burka

If there was a clear winner in last night's election, it was the tea party. Texas is a tea party state now, punctuated by Dan Patrick's taking control of the lieutenant governor's race from David Dewhurst. The entire state has taken a turn to the hard right, and that is the immediate future of Texas politics. How long will it last? What does it mean for the Democrats? Those are the next big questions to ask.

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Wed March 5, 2014 1:00 am By Paul Burka, Erica Grieder, Brian D. Sweany

Check back here throughout Primary Day and into the night as I provide the latest breaking news and analysis on the 2014 primaries along with my colleagues Erica Grieder and Brian D. Sweany. And don't forget that you can follow all of us on Twitter: @PaulBurka @EricaGrieder and @Brian_Sweany.

12:46 AM: Reading the Tea Leaves. In an earlier post, I wondered if 2014 would be when the tea party became the mainstream of the Republican party. Tonight we got a pretty clear picture of where the voters are directing their energy. What Ted Cruz started in 2012 came to its full fruition tonight. Short-term analysis is always tricky, but even if we predicted the candidates in the run-off correctly, we often got the order wrong. Patrick beat Dewhurst. Paxton beat Branch. Hegar beat Hilderbran (right now at 49.9%). And so on. The tea party flexed its muscle, and they knew how to win their races. Every single candidate at the top of the statewide ballot endorsed by Empower Texans led his race.

On the Senate side, Bob Hall pushed incumbent Robert Deuell into a runoff. Konni Burton leads Mark Shelton into the runoff. Donald Huffines is leading incumbent John Carona. So far the only Empower Texans-endorsed candidate not to push through is Mike Canon, who lost to Kel Seliger.

As for the House, of the 20 or so key races I was following, the majority of those supportive of the leadership won (some key knockoffs were Linda Harper-Brown, a committee chair, Ralph Sheffield, Bennett Ratliff, and Diane Patrick). Of those incumbents backed by Empower Texans who were being challenged, Jonathan Stickland, Charles Perry, and Matt Schaefer won their races. Stefani Carter is in a runoff after coming in second (and running a poor campaign). Several Empower Texans candidates pulled through in the open seats as well--T.J, Fabby and Ted Seago led their races into the runoff, and Mark Keough won outright.

The implications for the Senate are clear if Patrick beats Dewhurst in May. The House is not so certain. The glare will be even greater on Joe Straus, but the fundamental math behind the speaker's race remains unchanged. That will drive the tea party crazy, and it will become one of the great pressure points in the 2015 session. -- BDS

11:55 PM: Yep, still weird. The results are mostly in now, although ballots are still being counted in a number of races to see if there will be a runoff--in senate district 16, where challenger Don Huffines has a whisker-thin lead over incumbent Republican John Carona, in the comptroller's race, where Glenn Hegar is a few votes shy of the 50% threshhold, and so on. (For the latest results, check the secretary of state's website). 

Based on what we know now, though, I gotta say I'm hard-pressed to find a clear result from these elections. A number of far-right or Tea Party-type conservatives outperformed expectations, most notably Dan Patrick, who won the race for lieutenant governor, although not with enough support to avoid a runoff against Dewhurst. If you want to find a clear Tea Party victory, though, you have to look downballot, where incumbents like Jonathan Stickland and Donna Campbell brushed off primary opponents, and where challengers like Konni Burton are heading to runoffs. At the same time, establishment Republicans like Joe Straus and John Cornyn, both of whom have been targeted by Tea Party groups in recent years, easily won their primaries. 

It was a good night for Republicans in Texas, as a group, insofar as about twice as many Texans cast their ballots for Republicans rather than Democrats; Democrats didn't have as many contested primaries, but they do have an unusually high-profile ticket. And it's an ominous sign for Wendy Davis that although she is now the official Democratic gubernatorial nominee, she lost several south Texas counties to Ray Madrigal. If not for the relative underperformance of the Democratic ticket, Republicans would have cause for concern over the unusual degree of infighting suggested by this year's primaries. --EG 

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Mon March 3, 2014 11:16 am By Paul Burka

Here are five races that I'm watching with particular interest tomorrow that are part of an ongoing battle for control of the Republican party.

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