Over the weekend state representative Brandon Creighton placed first in the special election to replace Tommy Williams in Senate District, and will head to a runoff with state representative Steve Toth. Creighton got about 45% of the vote, Toth about 24%. 

Like the other three candidates who ran, Creighton is a Republican. He is obviously a conservative one, having spent much of the last regular session as a de facto leader of the House’s amorphous Tea Party caucus, and attracting the approval of right-wingers for, among other things, his efforts to block Medicaid expansion. He is sufficiently conservative that EmpowerTexans has described him as having “a strong record,” despite the fact that, as they note, he voted to keep the dread Joe Straus as speaker in 2011. He is sufficiently conservative that Toth, his strongest challenger, acknowledged as much

There are four nice guys running — four conservatives — but in the Senate, it’s not enough to just be a conservative voice. You’ll get pushed out,” Toth said. “You need a conservative record and fight to get things done.”

And yet Toth was somehow challenging Creighton from the right, and received the support of several influential right-wing groups, including EmpowerTexans, which endorsed Toth despite Creighton’s aforementioned “strong record.”

The nominal explanation for this might be that Toth scored marginally higher than Creighton on EmpowerTexans’ biennial “Fiscal Responsibility Index.” However, a closer look at the scorecard itself (PDF) should cast more doubt on the methodology than on Creighton’s credentials. For example, Creighton was dinged for failing to support Van Taylor’s amendment that would have restricted the Lege’s ability to withdraw money from the Rainy Day Fund for water, despite the fact that Creighton himself later offered a more tactically savvy amendment to the same effect. Neither succeeded in the end, but Taylor’s amendment was summarily defeated, whereas Creighton threw a genuine monkey wrench in the works.

The greater point of distinction between Toth and Creighton is that Toth is more clearly hostile to Speaker Straus than Creighton, who has been deemed a Straus supporter in some circles, at least relative to Toth, who was elected in 2012 after unseating Rob Eissler. In other words, the runoff was more a measure of how many conservatives oppose Straus than of how many Republicans are conservative. And the results, it has to be said, are not auspicious for those conservatives whose animating principle is opposition to Straus, rather than a more substantive issue.