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Tea Party Targeting John Cornyn's 2014 Reelection


Texas Senator John Cornyn is in trouble with the tea party.

At the Texas Tribune policy conference last weekend, six tea party leaders were asked if they wanted a strong candidate to challenge Cornyn in the Republican primary. 

Five of them said "yes."

Included in that group were former gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina, who now heads We Texans, a limited government group; Northeast Tarrant County Tea Party President Julie McCarty; and Republican state representatives Matt Krause from Fort Worth and Jonathan Stickland from Bedford.

The fifth and most vocal critic was JoAnn Fleming.  Her email list for Grassroots America reaches tens of thousands of tea party activists across the state. She’s also the liaison between state tea party groups and the legislature.

“I believe that Sen. Cornyn has never been more vulnerable,” Fleming said.  “If a credible candidate comes forward who can raise money, Sen. Cornyn will have a race on his hands.”

(Despite the opposition, Cornyn doesn't face a serious primary opponent, Politico reported Oct. 9.)

Fleming says she’s fed up with Cornyn for several reasons.

She says he served on a committee that raises money for Republican candidates, but would not raise money for tea party contenders.

And Fleming claims Sen. Cornyn has repeatedly declined to attend tea party town halls.

“We don’t like that because it makes him appear to be very establishment and we think elected officials work for us instead of the other way around,” she said.

Fleming says the final straw was Cornyn’s decision to oppose the talkathon waged by Texas’ junior senator Ted Cruz who wants to pass budget legislation that defunds Obamacare, even if it shuts down the federal government. 

Her message to Cornyn: “If he’s got a better idea we need to hear it.”

Former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who knows what it’s like to navigate the halls of Congress, was the sixth member on the panel.  He defended Cornyn.

“Let’s first recognize our senator is with us most of the time and we ought to be somewhat appreciative of that before we trade horses in midstream,” Armey suggested, only to have Strickland heatedly jump in.

Strickland says Cornyn was “dishonest” in claiming he wanted to defund Obamacare: “The deception of acting like you are against something then voting to help it along -- that’s where I have a serious problem."

A spokesperson for Cornyn responded to the criticism by saying the senior senator has repeatedly called for killing Obamacare, but he disagreed with Cruz’s tactics for doing that.  She said that just last month Cornyn met with tea party leaders from Denton, Frisco and Addison, and he’s led the Senate fight for adding a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

But, for some tea party activists, there appears to be a disconnect. 

Fleming says she’s talking with at least two elected officials who are interested in tea party backing for a primary campaign against Cornyn.   

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.