That changed in mid-January, though, when Paxton’s campaign went on the offensive against one of his three Republican opponents: Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX-01).
Paxton reportedly launched a TV ad campaign and sent out mailers critical of Gohmert in East Texas, where the congressman has built a base of supporters throughout his political career over the past several decades.
In particular, the mailer highlighted Gohmert’s missed votes during his time in Congress.
According to a report from GovTrack, which the mailer cites, Gohmert has missed 837 out of 11,507 votes, 7.3 percent of the total.
“An attack ad? To me, that’s your record. If you voted certain ways, in opposition to Second Amendment or pro-life, stand behind your vote. Don’t run from it and call it an attack,” Paxton told The Texan when asked about the ads targeting Gohmert.
“It’s a fact that he voted the way he did,” said Paxton. “If I were him, I would have voted differently. I would’ve showed up for votes.”
The offensive against Gohmert has also gone negative through digital sources as well, with the Paxton campaign posting ads on Facebook and Instagram claiming Gohmert “is not the conservative you think he is.”
Asked why his campaign is highlighting Gohmert’s record but not those of his other GOP opponents, Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, Paxton said, “Only because they don’t have a voting record. He’s got a voting record that we can actually look at.”
“She’s got a judicial record. It’s not very good, but it’s harder to show what that is. People don’t understand opinions or law,” said Paxton. “And the land commissioner — I don’t really have anything to say other than, you know, he tried to give away the Alamo.”
Since January 13, Paxton has spent between $2,500 and $3,000 on the digital ads attacking Gohmert. While 77 percent of the ads were shown to people located in Texas, a report from Facebook shows that another 16 percent and 7 percent reached audiences in Washington, D.C. and Virginia, respectively.
Paxton’s advertisement on the platforms also calls attention to the endorsement the incumbent attorney general received from the former president.
“Who is Trump’s pick for Texas Attorney General? Not Louie Gohmert,” the ad reads.
Notably, during a recent Trump rally in Conroe, Trump reiterated his “complete and total” endorsement of Paxton.
But in highlighting members of Congress who were in attendance, Trump also called Gohmert a “wonderful guy,” saying, “This is a man who’s been a friend of mine from day one.”
At the same time as his Facebook ad, Paxton also launched a campaign through Google with a video advertisement touting the attorney general’s stance on border security and the endorsement from former President Donald Trump.
Though the video advertisement makes no mention of Gohmert, it, like the mailer and TV ad, targets viewers in East Texas.
Paxton has spent $1,100 on the video advertisement, according to Google’s Transparency Report.
While the wording is slightly different in each, one sentence appears in all four: “Louie Gohmert will restore honesty and integrity to the office of Attorney General.”
“If you want to know how things are going,” Gohmert told The Texan in an interview, “look at who Paxton is attacking.”
“He’s not running attack ads against George P. Bush or Eva Guzman. He’s running them against me because he’s seen I’m the one that’s gonna get him in a runoff. And then in the runoff, he’s in trouble.”
If no candidate in the March 1 primary election receives over 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates in the race will move to a May runoff election.
With three challengers to Paxton — each of whom reported raising over a million dollars by the end of 2021 — there is a strong possibility that they could weigh down Paxton’s incumbency advantage to pull him to a runoff.
Two polls from June and November 2021 showed Paxton in the lead at 42 percent and 46 percent, respectively, among GOP primary voters, while Land Commissioner George P. Bush followed in second at 34 percent and 32 percent, respectively.
Both polls were conducted before Gohmert entered the race, though, and his name was nowhere to be seen among the options.
“From what we saw before I got in, it looked like [Paxton] might even be able to win without a runoff,” said Gohmert, adding that he is concerned the FBI “will probably wait until after the primary” and then indict Paxton because of an ongoing investigation.
In such a scenario, Gohmert argues that it would be too late to replace Paxton with a new nominee for attorney general, increasing the likelihood that Democrats win in the November general election.
Gohmert told The Texan that when he was first entering the race, polls that he saw placed Bush — who Gohmert says has “more name recognition than Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick” — nowhere past “17 or 18 percent.”
“And before I was even in, I was tied with him,” said Gohmert.
A new poll released by the Hobby School of Public Affairs, which was conducted in mid-January, shows that Gohmert and Bush are indeed competing for the runoff spot with Paxton should they succeed in keeping him from receiving half the vote.
The Hobby poll still showed Paxton with a solid lead at 39 percent among all GOP primary voters, with Bush and Gohmert following at 16 percent and 13 percent, respectively.
Among “almost certain primary voters,” though, Paxton’s polling increases to 44 percent, Gohmert’s polling is bumped up to 15 percent while Bush falls to 13 percent.
Another new poll conducted by the University of Texas at Tyler showed Paxton in the lead with 33 percent, Bush trailing at 19 percent, Gohmert with 9 percent, Guzman with 8 percent, and 33 percent undecided.
Asked if he was optimistic that he’d avoid a runoff, Paxton said he was.
“I think I’ve got a really good chance. I mean, you never know, but the numbers look good,” said Paxton. “I certainly wouldn’t trade with any of my opponents right now.”
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Daniel Friend is the Marketing and Media Manager for The Texan. After graduating with a double-major in Political Science and Humanities, he wrote for The Texan as a reporter through June 2022. In his spare time, you're likely to find him working on The Testimony of Calvin Lewis, an Abolition of Man-inspired novel and theatrical podcast.