The battle for the heart and soul of the Texas Republican Party continues.

Gov. Greg Abbott seems to be holding back most of his $40 million-plus campaign bankroll for the November general elections.

After all, his primary opponents are Larry SECEDE Kilgore and Barbara Krueger. Heard of them?

But Abbott is spending some of his swag backing challengers to three incumbent Republican members of the Texas House of Representatives.

They are Sarah Davis of West University Place, in West Houston; Lyle Larson of San Antonio; and Wayne Faircloth of Galveston.

Their apparent sins were backing stronger ethics laws than Abbott had wanted in emergency designations in the 2015 and 2017 regular legislative sessions.

Larson had a bill to restrict "pay-for-play" campaign donations, to put a $2,500 per year limit on how much a donor could contribute to the governor and still be appointed to or on a state board or commission.

Appointing big donors to major university boards and the Parks and Wildlife Commission has been a habit for decades of Republican and Democratic governors.

The San Antonio Express-News found in 2016 that about a fourth of Abbott's appointees were donors, of more than $8.6 million since 2000.

The House during the 2017 regular session passed Larson's bill 91-48, with bipartisan support. It died in the Senate.

In the special legislative session that summer, Larson and Davis -- who chairs the House committee overseeing ethics legislation – held a press conference urging Abbott to add ethics to issues the legislature could consider.

Nope. An Abbott aide accused Larson and Davis of "showboating."

Abbott, who dictates subjects legislators may consider in a special session, saw just half his 20 proposals passed in the special session. He did not add ethics to the call.

Against Larson, Abbott has endorsed former Hollywood Park Mayor Chris Fails.

Against Davis, Abbott has endorsed Susanna Dokupil, who had worked under Abbott as an assistant attorney general when he was attorney general before becoming governor.

He has already spent more than $161,000 in the effort, airing his third TV ad recently against Davis. But if Abbott's gamble pays off and Dokupil wins the primary, she's still got to beat a Democrat in this swing district in November for it to be a victory.

Against Faircloth, who also called to limit "pay-for-play" appointments, Abbott has endorsed Mayes Middleton of Chambers County.

Middleton. the wealthy son of an oil-rich family, was briefly a board member of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation until announcing for office last year.

As for Abbott endorsing these three challengers to sitting state legislators, it's a calculated risk. If he succeeds in all three – and he might – it increases his clout. If he fails in any of them, it's further evidence of a clouded judgment about legislative dealings.

It's partly a battle with outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus, under whose more moderate leadership the House killed several bills, including the transgender discriminating "bathroom bill." 

It was pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and belatedly endorsed during the 2017 regular session by Gov. Abbott – who nonetheless included it on his special session agenda call, perhaps to protect his right flank against Patrick's ideological supporters.

Straus has voiced support for Davis, Larson and Faircloth, and has a few million dollars in his campaign finance account that he can put to work to help them.

These should be some interesting battles. We'll know in less than a month how they come out – except that if Dokupil beats Davis in the Houston swing district, we'll have to wait until November to see if she survives against the Democrat.

Early voting starts Feb. 20.

Lt. Gov. Patrick has already spent more than $5 million on TV ads in advance of his re-election bid in the March 6 Republican primary.

Pretty significant, since his lone opponent is former Rockwall City Councilman Scott Milder.

Interestingly, the Dallas Morning News has endorsed Milder.

Patrick, incidentally, has deepened his battle lines with the main business organization, the Texas Association of Business. He canceled a planned appearance before the group, claiming schedule conflicts.

Although business has normally sided with the Republican powers-that-are, the TAB finally actively opposed Patrick's pet anti-transgender "bathroom bill."

The TAB and dozens of its members warned that passage of the bill would make Texas off-limits to all kinds of business expansions, tourism, sports contests, traveling performers, and others – as happened in North Carolina, when it passed a similar law.

The House, under Speaker Straus, managed to waylay the bill. But the whole divide among the traditional business-oriented moderate Republicans, and the evangelical far right, continues for control of the soul of the GOP.

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