This report is part of a series of profile stories Nexstar is doing on the Republican and Democratic candidates for Texas Attorney General.
AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As early voting for the March 1 primary kicks off, incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton is polling below the threshold needed to avoid a runoff election.
New polling from the University of Texas-Austin and Texas Politics Project shows the state’s top lawyer polling at 47%.
Paxton faces challenges from current Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Congressman Louie Gohmert and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. Jim Henson, one of the lead pollsters, said aside from being a crowded field, there are several reasons why this is the most contentious Republican primary race in the state.
“That race continues to be interesting. Incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton, [is] having to run with a degree of scandal and legal issues hovering over his candidacy,” Henson said. “…You’ve got a lot of candidates pressuring Paxton from the center-right and the far-right, it’s proving to be difficult for him.”
His competitors have been trying to draw ethical contrast to the incumbent, frequently pointing to the list of legal troubles he’s faced throughout his time in office. In 2015, Paxton was indicted on felony securities fraud charges. Last year, seven of his top aids reported him to the FBI over bribery and abuse of office accusations. He is now facing wrongful termination and retaliation lawsuits from those former aids.
Paxton rarely talks about the ongoing investigations into his actions. At a Monday news conference, he deflected a question about his Republican challengers calling attention to his legal issues, saying he would not talk about campaign issues, while operating in his official attorney general capacity.
Nexstar has tried several times setting up an interview with Paxton to discuss his re-election campaign. His campaign team has not responded.
Campaign messaging themes
All three of Paxton’s television advertisements have featured his coveted endorsement from former President Donald Trump, who is still seen to carry a lot of weight with GOP primary voters.
One ad features clips from when Trump rallied in Conroe earlier this month, calling Paxton a “brave and strong” leader and reiterating that he has his “complete and total endorsement.”
His campaign advertisements have also highlighted his aggressive approach toward the Biden administration, highlighting one example of a lawsuit against the Biden administration he has won. Since President Joe Bident was inaugurated, Paxton has sued his administration 20 times with mixed results of success.
In January, Paxton held a two-day border summit with 12 other state attorneys general to announce his ninth border-related lawsuit against the Biden administration. Border security and immigration are the top two issues for Repubilcan primary voters, according to the Texas Politics Project/UT poll.