Cornyn kicks off reelection bid amid political 'schizophrenia'


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist SCOTT MCKENNEY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on November 15, 2013 at 7:25 PM

Updated Saturday, Nov 16 at 4:31 PM

AUSTIN -- Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) announced his bid for a third term in the U.S. Senate laying out his conservative bona fides and a promise. 
"We're going to scrap Obamacare and replace it with health care reform that makes sense," Cornyn told a crowd of supporters at Scholz Garten, a longtime popular hangout among the Capitol crowd.
Wearing a lapel pin featuring the Battle of Gonzales "Come and Take It" flag, Cornyn also called conservatives to arms against efforts by Democrats to turn Texas blue. 
"We don't want a Nancy Pelosi clone as the next governor of Texas," said Cornyn, in an apparent jab at Democratic gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth). "Not on our watch."
Introducing Cornyn Friday morning was one of the state's most powerful Republicans, Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas). Praising Cornyn as an "effective" conservative leader and "the epitome" of his idea of a senator, Perry gave the senior senator a firm stamp of approval.
"We need John Cornyn," Perry said.
Yet, for months, Cornyn has been pestered by comparisons to his newly elected colleague Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Cruz seized the national Tea Party mantle after a 21-hour speech against the Affordable Care Act, but while his unsuccessful strategy to defund the health care law was popular among Tea Party members, it wasn't among many of the Senate's more senior members.
Cornyn's lack of support for Cruz's strategy has drawn the ire of many in the Tea Party, leading to brief efforts to draft other conservative figures such as Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and evangelical minister David Barton into a primary against the well-funded Republican incumbent.
"We had a minor disagreement in the family over tactics, and the tactic led to a government shutdown," Cornyn told KVUE Friday. "I happen to  believe that was a bad thing because we have to demonstrate our ability to govern." 
A post-shutdown poll by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune showed 40 percent of Texas voters rated Cruz favorably, compared to 25 percent who rated Cornyn favorably. Meanwhile, Cruz's favorable rating stood at 92 percent among Tea Party members, compared to 42 percent for Cornyn. 
University of Texas professor, pollster and Texas Politics Project Director James R. Henson said Cornyn isn't necessarily in trouble, but the effect of Cruz comparisons on his perception among orthodox conservatives can't be written off.
"To the extent that John Cornyn expressed anything less than full commitment to the government shutdown, he's now seen as having a purity problem," said Henson. "But it's just that. It's not an electoral problem yet, it's a purity problem." 
"I do think that the difference between Ted Cruz and John Cornyn is mostly stylistic. They vote the same probably 97 percent of the time," said Republican political consultant Matt Mackowiak.
While Cruz's decision not to endorse Cornyn -- or any other GOP incumbents -- has raised eyebrows, Mackowiak suggested Friday's endorsement may be enough.
"Governor Perry strongly supporting Senator Cornyn for reelection, I think, really puts an end to the Republican primary for United States Senate," said Mackowiak.
"It takes a team approach," Perry told reporters after the event. Cornyn said voters must be convinced, "We will be the responsible adults in the room. We will actually govern. That's important."
Democrats accuse Cornyn of being pushed further to the right by the firebrand Cruz. A Friday press release from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee characterized Cornyn as letting the junior senator call the shots.
"Completely consumed by his fear of a Tea Party primary challenge, John Cornyn has been on 'Cruz control' for months and stood in lockstep with the junior Senator from Texas on nearly every single issue,” said DSCC spokesperson Justin Barasky. "Rather than doing what’s best for Texas, John Cornyn has looked to Ted Cruz time and time again for his marching orders. Texans deserve better than Cornyn, whose sole focus in Washington has been adhering himself to a reckless and irresponsible partisan agenda."
"It's really interesting, there seems to be schizophrenia here," Cornyn said Friday. "On one hand I'm not enough in one direction and I'm too much in another direction. I don't pay that much attention to it. I just try to do the best I can, and I think I'm a pretty good fit for Texas."