Paxton, who has been beset by criminal probes and is under indictment, finished first in a four-way March 1 primary but failed to clinch a majority of the vote, forcing the runoff with Bush, whose defeat Tuesday marks another blow to his family’s once-mighty political dynasty.
The Texas runoff results came as news of a shooting at an elementary school gripped the state and the country.
During the campaign, Bush and Paxton’s other initial challengers, former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and US Rep. Louie Gohmert, warned that the incumbent’s legal issues could come back to bite Republicans in a general election.
“This campaign is about good government – making sure we don’t have indicted felons serving at the top of the chain of command of our law enforcement officials here in Texas,” Bush told Texas Public Radio ahead of the runoff.
But Paxton has already won reelection once, in 2018, despite being under indictment for securities fraud, in a case that goes back to 2015. He also enjoyed the support of former President Donald Trump – and sought to portray himself as a political outsider, despite being a two-term incumbent.
“I guess what I’d say is, clearly, to the establishment: They got what they wanted,” Paxton told supporters in a speech after the March vote. “They got me in a runoff.”
Paxton spoke at the pro-Trump rally in Washington on January 6, 2021, shortly before the attack on the US Capitol. He also led a lawsuit a month earlier seeking to invalidate the results of the 2020 presidential election in four battleground states – Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – won by now-President Joe Biden.
The US Supreme Court dismissed the suit, citing a lack of standing, but from a political standpoint, the move appears to have benefited Paxton. Trump endorsed him and it sealed his standing with the former President’s supporters.
“It has probably helped him, in the sense that it has cemented him as the champion of the die-hard Trumpists,” Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, told CNN before the primary.
Paxton will face Democrat Rochelle Garza, a former American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, in the general election. Garza will defeat former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski in the Democratic primary runoff Tuesday, CNN projects.
This story has been updated with additional developments.