Tea Party candidate to challenge Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn

In an unexpected turn of events, Rep. Steve Stockman announced Monday that he plans to run against Senate minority whip John Cornyn in the Texas Republican primaries in March. 

Evan Vucci/ AP Photo/File
Rep. Steve Stockman (R) Texas (2nd r.) participates in a mock swearing-in ceremony with House Speaker John Boehner in Washington in January. Stockman filed a last-minute Republican primary challenge Monday against Sen. John Cornyn.

Rep. Steve Stockman (R) of Texas is launching a campaign against a fellow Texas Republican, Sen. John Cornyn, marking perhaps the highest-profile tea party challenge so far to an establishment Republican in next spring's primaries.

Political experts had anticipated that Senator Cornyn would sweep through the primaries without any serious challenges, but Representative Stockman filed for the seat minutes before the 6 p.m. local deadline, according to Texas Republican Party spokesman Spencer Yeldell.

Stockman is known for his inflammatory gestures, such as likening President Obama to Saddam Hussein, inviting Ted Nugent to the State of the Union address this year, and calling for the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations. 

It's not yet clear how much of a challenge Stockman will present to Cornyn. Stockman has only $32,000 cash-on-hand, while Cornyn has $7 million. Moreover, two groups that often back primary opponents against incumbent senators, the Senate Conservative Fund and the Madison Project, both praised the general concept of a conservative challenge to Cornyn but stopped short of endorsing Stockman, The New York Times reported.

Stockman's entry into the primaries, however, will put pressure on Cornyn to more further to the right. Stockman has already said he plans to attack Cornyn over the senator's perceived transgressions against the tea party. 

Before July, Cornyn had racked up impressive conservative credentials. The Texas Republican has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association; a voting records that jibes nicely with oil interests; stellar ratings from pro-life groups; and has also won multiple awards from the antitax group, Americans for Tax Reform. In 2012, the National Journal ranked Cornyn as the second most conservative senator.

But Cornyn’s failure to support Sen. Ted Cruz’s crusade against Obamacare left him with a political Achilles’ heel.

In July, he incurred the ire of tea partyers when he decided to remove his signature from a letter by Sen. Mike Lee (R) of Utah that expressed strong support to defund the president’s controversial health-care law, even in the face of a government shutdown. The Senate Conservatives Fund labeled Cornyn a “turncoat.” Stockman's best bet, it seems, will be to focus on Cornyn's July conciliation. 

After declaring his candidacy, Stockman detailed why he was running: “We are all extremely disappointed in the way [Cornyn] treated his fellow congressmen and ... undermined Ted Cruz’s fight to stop Obamacare. And now, it looks like Cruz was right and Cornyn was wrong. He sided with the president, essentially, in making sure Obamacare became law while Cruz did everything possible to stop it," The Washington Post reported.

Cruz has not commented on the matter, saying through his spokesperson that he will not get involved in any incumbent primaries, the Times wrote.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he will stand by Cornyn in the March 4 primaries.  

"The Governor has been very clear in his support for Senator Cornyn and nothing has changed," said Perry spokesman Rich Parsons, according to the Texas Tribune.

Stockman was elected to the US House of Representatives last year after a relatively low profile “reelection” campaign. The congressman served in the House for one term from 1995 to 1997, riding the Newt Gingrich wave of conservatives. (Stockman reportedly thought that Gingrich was too liberal.) During his first term, Stockman was best known for accusing the US government of “executing” members of the Branch Davidian cult, the Associated Press reported.

Stockman’s name was most recently in the news after the Houston Chronicle published an investigation into his finances. The congressman has failed to properly file a financial report of his myriad accounts, the Chronicle reported

Before Stockman appeared on the Senate primary scene, six little-known Republicans and five Democrats were set to challenge Cornyn, the Associated Press reported.

Stockman is one of several tea party candidates facing off against establishment GOP legislators deemed insufficiently conservative. In Kentucky, tea party favorite Matt Bevin is taking on Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, and in Mississippi, the far-right state Sen. Chris McDaniel is challenging Sen. Thad Cochran.  

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