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John Cornyn Is Too Conservative to Lose This Primary

It’s Election Day in Texas, and Sen. John Cornyn will probably beat back a challenge from Rep. Steve Stockman in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Polls put Cornyn’s lead at about 45 percentage points.

Much has been said of Stockman’s odd campaign tactics, including his disappearance from the trail, but Cornyn has a Texas trump card: He’s super-conservative.

Cornyn, the Senate minority whip, was more conservative than 70 percent of Republican senators in the last Congress, as measured by DW-nominate scores, which use roll call votes to classify representatives and senators as liberal or conservative. And as I noted in August, senators who faced serious challenges in primaries since 2002 were either party-switchers (like New Hampshire’s Bob Smith, a Republican turned independent turned Republican) or ideologically incompatible with primary voters.

Indeed, senators who lost or nearly lost in recent primaries have been in the moderate wing of their party. On average, they’ve been more moderate than 89 percent of their caucus. The least moderate senator to lose was Republican Bob Bennett of Utah in 2010, and he was more moderate than 74 percent of his caucus. (Bennett lost in a convention, not a primary. Convention attendees tend to be more conservative than primary voters.)

Party bases don’t tend to rebel against senators with ideological profiles like Cornyn’s, and he left too little room to his right for a strong primary challenge.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.