Attorney General Ken Paxton, Justin Nelson too close to call

November 7, 2018

AUSTIN — Attorney General Ken Paxton and Democratic challenger Justin Nelson were virtually tied in initial vote returns early Tuesday night, setting up a potential upset for Republicans in this year’s election.

Nelson’s strategy of showering voters with incessant reminders of Paxton’s lingering criminal indictment appeared to work. The tie in early election results comes despite a barrage of TV ads, billboards and a roaming truck featuring the attorney general’s 2015 mug shot in the final weeks of early voting and Election Day.

Paxton is facing two criminal felony charges for securities fraud and a third charge for failing to register with the state as an investment adviser. Paxton, who won his way into office on tea party coattails, has maintained he is the victim of a political witch hunt by fellow Republicans.

The Republican from North Texas largely kept out of the public eye in the months leading up to the election. Considered the most vulnerable statewide elected Republican, Paxton appeared on FOX News and spoke at select Republican events but skipped local news interviews and declined to debate Nelson. However, polls consistently showed Paxton ahead.

Among Democrats, Nelson put up the most well-funded fight for statewide office outside the hotly-contested U.S. Senate race. Nelson spent nearly $4.3 million in his bid for office and loaned himself $1.5 million in his quest. His campaign included several low-budget digital ads reminding voters of Paxton’s legal troubles, including how to bake an “indictment birthday cake” and sending staffers to dress up as Paxton and roam the Texas Capitol on Halloween.

In October as voter turnout surged, Paxton began airing ads on television to counter Nelson’s barrage of media mentioning the attorney general’s indictment, taking credit for closing down a human trafficking marketplace — which Politifact determined was “mostly false” — and alleging Nelson favored open borders — which Nelson denies.

The race grew into an expensive one — the two collectively spent $13.4 million since January. The campaigns spent nearly half of that in the last month alone.

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