Any other year, a Cornyn-Abbott-Dewhurst-Bush primary lineup would look like a Republican winner.Not this year. At least, not yet. And time is short before March 5 voting.With U.S. Sen. John Cornyn all but daring the Tea Party to challenge him, and with three opponents chasing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, traditional Republicans seem due for a jolt.But Nolan can change all that.Texas Rangers baseball hero Nolan Ryan of Fort Worth is mulling a campaign for state agriculture commissioner, not only pitching Texas beef but also drawing voters to a lineup short on star power.At the Waco-based Texas Farm Bureau, spokesman Gene Hall said he’s heard the same talk.“I think he would be wonderful,” Hall said Thursday, after word leaked from Houston about a potential Ryan campaign.“He would have a platform to go around the world talking about Texas beef,” Hall said.“Whatever he says, people are interested.”There’s this tiny matter of the primary first, and four current Republican candidates including Stephenville Republican Sid Miller, whose campaign treasurer is Waco musician and hunter Ted Nugent.(The Democratic candidates include Kinky Friedman. Hope for a debate.)Up and down the ballot, Cornyn, gubernatorial frontrunner Greg Abbott and land commissioner frontrunner George P. Bush of Fort Worth all face challenges from one or more lesser-known Tea Party candidates.Dewhurst’s three opponents cross the conservative spectrum. Ryan is the chief fundraiser for current Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples’ campaign.That field also includes Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and state Sen. Dan Patrick, a Houston talk-radio executive.A Ryan candidacy would bolster other business Republicans, Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson agreed.“He is beloved in Texas,” Jillson said.“The Tea Party is mad at Cornyn and mad at Dewhurst, but they’d have to be silent on Nolan.”In a report Wednesday in The Dallas Morning News, Cornyn criticized Washington-based Tea Party affiliate FreedomWorks as a “destructive element” in the party.He said both that group and another Tea Party affiliate, the Senate Conservatives Fund, thrive on “donor confusion.”That spurred some Tea Party leaders to ramp up a social-media call for Aledo Republican David Barton, a religious author and former state party vice chairman, to challenge Cornyn.At the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, 40-year political science professor Jerry Polinard doubted the idea.“Cornyn has a very effective statewide organization and unquestioned conservative credentials,” Polinard said.Tea Party-aligned U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has been filling rallies, but “the people overall are not as rock-solid behind the Tea Party as before,” Polinard said.“They ought to be pretty careful before they run anybody against Cornyn.”The traditional Republicans have an ace in the bullpen.
Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @BudKennedy