AUSTIN, Texas – In a last-minute surprise late Monday, U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman filed paperwork to challenge fellow Texas Republican and powerful incumbent John Cornyn for the U.S. Senate next year.
Cornyn is the Senate's minority whip and had appeared likely to escape a major primary challenge from the tea party or other conservative factions.
But Texas Republican Party spokesman Spencer Yeldell said a Stockman staffer walked into headquarters shortly before the 6 p.m. filing deadline, withdrew the congressman's previously submitted House re-election bid and entered the already crowded race against Cornyn.
Stockman was elected to a district outside Houston last year after a low-profile campaign where he largely ignored the media but urged voters to support his "re-election." He previously served one term in Congress starting in 1994 -- and was perhaps best known for accusing the U.S. government of "executing" members of the Branch Davidian cult after the siege near Waco.
Cornyn is well-funded, has been endorsed by GOP Gov. Rick Perry, and should remain the race's clear favorite. Although he insists he's one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Congress, he's drawn the ire of some grass-roots groups for not being enough like Texas' junior senator, tea party firebrand Ted Cruz.
"Senator Cornyn looks forward to discussing his conservative record with Texans," Cornyn campaign manager Brendan Steinhauser said in response to Stockman's filing.
The Stockman shocker capped what had otherwise been a newsy day for Texas Democrats, as the party couldn't find candidates to run next year for three key judgeships -- meaning it failed to field a full slate of statewide office hopefuls despite the excitement triggered nationally by Wendy Davis' gubernatorial bid.
There was some good news for Democrats, however. Will Hailer, the party's executive director, announced that Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Lawrence Meyers was leaving the Republicans to run as a Democrat for the Texas Supreme Court. Because he's keeping his current post while running, Myers becomes the Democrats' only statewide officeholder.
Meyers did not return phone calls seeking comment. Still, the party said the 20 statewide candidates were the most it has had for any election cycle since 2002.
In all, 15 statewide offices are up for election in 2014, and both parties' March 4 primaries are now set.
Despite Myers' switch, a Democrat hasn't won statewide office in Texas since 1994. The party said Monday night that the streak is guaranteed to continue next year in one Texas Supreme Court seat race and two of the three Court of Criminal Appeals races, because only Republican candidates filed for them.
Meyers, the longest-serving appellate judge in Texas, is challenging incumbent Republican Jeff Brown in Supreme Court Place 6.
Meanwhile, the most-watched race basically wasn't affected by Monday's deadline. Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott is running against Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth who became an overnight national political sensation for staging a 12-plus hour filibuster that temporarily blocked new restrictions on abortion from passing the Texas Legislature.
Abbott needs only to top three little-known Republicans to secure his party's nomination, and just a single, longshot Democrat is challenging Davis. Perry has decided not to seek re-election.
If no candidate wins a majority in primary races, a runoff will be held May 27. Even before Stockman, six little-known Republicans and five Democrats had field to challenge Cornyn, but he's not expected to have much trouble with any of them.