AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — U.S. Sen. John Cornyn trounced a conservative Texas congressman Tuesday night to claim the Republican nomination, a victory that could ease his path to re-election after some tea party activists targeted him as too moderate.
The Senate's No. 2 Republican as minority whip, Cornyn has often been named among the chamber's most conservative members, but hasn't been endorsed by Texas' junior senator, conservative firebrand Ted Cruz. Some leading grass-roots groups in Texas have also decried Cornyn as too entrenched in Washington and too cozy with the GOP establishment.
But Cornyn shrugged off those criticisms and trounced his seven challengers. It helped that the best-known, U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, ran such a poor campaign that many top tea party leaders statewide formally disavowed him.
"As I have always suspected and tonight proves, Texans value hard work and solutions over rhetoric," Cornyn told supporters at his Austin headquarters.
Stockman conceded via Twitter less than 10 minutes after the polls had closed.
Famous for outlandish comments in support of gun rights and calls to impeach President Barack Obama, Stockman stunned political observers when he withdrew his re-election bid to his suburban Houston district and suddenly filed to run for Senate in December.
His campaign began with more debt than cash on hand, however, and was dogged by accusations of ethics violations — and things only got worse.
Stockman attended almost no major campaign events and even dropped completely out of sight for weeks in January, ignoring reporters and missing almost 20 votes in the House before explaining he had been part of an official overseas delegation at least part of that time.
Last week, leading conservatives suggested in an open letter to Stockman that he ran "the laziest statewide campaign to date" and added: "There is nothing about your conduct that represents the spirit of grassroots conservatives in the Texas tea party."
Casting his vote Tuesday, 66-year-old Don West, a retired landscaper in Lubbock, said he doesn't support Cornyn — but also wouldn't say whether he voted for Stockman.
"I think the tea party is going too far right but I think more liberals are going too far the other way," West said. "I'd rather go more conservative than less conservative."
Tuesday could be Cornyn's only major test: Five little-known Democrats are all vying for their party's nomination to challenge him in November. It was unclear as Tuesday's polls closed if any candidate had captured a majority of the vote — meaning the top-two finishers will meet in a May 27 runoff.
One of the hopefuls, activist Kesha Rogers, is a conspiracy theorist who wants to impeach Obama, colonize Mars and who the party says isn't a real Democrat.
Lebanon-born Dallas dental mogul David Alameel spent $4.5 million unsuccessfully running for Congress from Fort Worth two years ago and has promised that money won't be an object should he win the party's Senate nomination. Alameel, who has been endorsed by Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Wendy Davis, traveled to Afghanistan in 2000 to negotiate with the Taliban about the possible handover of Osama bin Laden to U.S. authorities — but those talks stalled after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Alameel has been criticized by rival Maxey Scheer, an El Paso personal injury attorney who notes that Alameel has given millions of dollars over the years to both political parties — including top Republicans in Texas and nationally. Scheer claims Cornyn has allowed Texas to operate on "Cruz control," dominated by the state's junior senator.
The final two Democrats on Tuesday's ballot are Houston attorney and businessman Michael Fjetland and Odessa-based family physician Harry Kim.
Associated Press writer Betsey Blaney in Lubbock contributed to this report.