By James Barragán, The Texas Tribune

Embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has faced securities fraud charges since 2015 and is under FBI investigation for abuse of office, has won reelection for a third term, according to Decision Desk HQ, defeating Democratic civil rights lawyer Rochelle Garza.

"The reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated," Paxton said in his victory speech from Collin County.

Surrounded by supporters, his wife state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, and members of the attorney general's office, Ken Paxton said he would continue to fight the federal government's "overreach" into state affairs. Paxton has been a leader in challenging policies implemented by Democratic presidents on immigration, expansion of LGBT rights and COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

"Just because we won tonight, the fight is not over," he said. "They're going to continue to come after me, they're going to continue to come after Texas. They're going to continue to come after Republicans around the country and we cannot let them win."

In a difficult cycle for Democrats, the race was widely seen as the most competitive statewide election because of Paxton’s laundry list of legal troubles. Paxton has faced securities fraud charges in Texas courts for seven years, and in 2020, eight of his former top deputies accused him of abusing his office to benefit a political donor. Those allegations set off an FBI investigation into Paxton. He has not been charged and he denies wrongdoing. He also faces a professional misconduct lawsuit from the Texas State Bar for a lawsuit he filed trying to overturn the presidential election results in four states where former President Donald Trump had lost. That case was thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court within days.

Paxton’s legal troubles were so pronounced that three major Republicans — U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Land Commissioner George P. Bush — tried to unseat him as the party’s nominee for attorney general. But Paxton survived to win the party’s nomination.

From the beginning, there were questions about the strength of the Democratic field. The party did not produce a big-name politician for the race and none of the three major Democratic candidates — North Texas attorney Lee Merritt, former Galveston mayor Joe Jaworski or Garza — had run for statewide office before.

Garza eventually won out in a primary runoff against Jaworski, who she beat by garnering nearly two-thirds of the vote. She immediately began attacking Paxton for his securities fraud charges, the allegations that he had abused his office to benefit a political donor and his closeness to Trump, who had endorsed Paxton in the Republican primary.

Paxton, who is supported by Christian social conservatives, also reportedly had an extramarital affair with a woman he later recommended for a job with the wealthy donor he is accused of doing political favors for.

Still, the Republican base stood steadfastly by Paxton, seeing him as a “fighter” for conservative social causes they supported like support for tougher voting restrictions and opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and the expansion of rights for LGBTQ people. After missing out on winning the primary flat out in March by 8 percentage points in a four-candidate field, Paxton easily defeated Bush in the runoff with more than two-thirds of voters in that race sticking by him.

Some Republicans worried that Paxton’s vulnerability and legal troubles could hand over the top legal office in the state to Democrats. Each of his GOP opponents had made this a staple of their campaigns.

In May, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a fellow Republican who previously served as Texas attorney general, said Paxton’s lingering legal scandals were an “embarrassment.” But Paxton fired back against Cornyn, saying he was using the attorney general’s office to defend Texans’ conservative values and casting Cornyn as a Bush acolyte and a squishy conservative. Cornyn did not endorse in the primary.

Similarly, Garza’s attacks against Paxton went the way of his previous GOP challengers’ and failed to gain enough traction to make the race realistically competitive. While some polls in August showed her within 2 and 3 percentage points of Paxton, those polls also had high levels of undecided voters, likely reflecting voters who were hesitant to vote for Paxton but unconvinced by Garza.

Libertarian candidate Mark Ash was also polling in the single digits, potentially pulling support from voters that otherwise might have considered voting for Garza.

With little name recognition and scant financial resources to introduce herself to voters in a state of nearly 30 million people, Garza struggled to pick up the support of those crucial undecided voters. While Democrats had hoped she could turn out Latinos and women in high enough numbers to make the race competitive, Garza seemed caught in the undercurrent of a difficult election cycle for Democrats.

Her calls to “restore honor and integrity” to the attorney general’s office and to stop Paxton from taking away Texans’ liberties could not rally enough voters to her side.

Her unabashedly liberal positions on issues like abortion and immigration made it difficult for her to pick up on-the-fence Republicans and independents that other statewide Democratic candidates, like Mike Collier and Beto O’Rourke, were touting in their races. Paxton also used those positions to characterize her as a “liberal extremist.”

The embattled incumbent deftly avoided debates, minimizing his exposure, and made only controlled public appearances to supportive groups, which the press was seldom invited to. He made his financial advantage felt with TV and digital ads that were often negative attacks against Garza.

As of July, Garza had raised $1.1 million for her campaign and had $500,000 remaining in her campaign account. Paxton, by contrast, raised more than $8 million and had $3.5 million on hand to spend through the election.

"Ken Paxton wins third term as attorney general, beating Democrat Rochelle Garza" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.