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Voters in northeast Texas choose Jill Dutton over Brent Money for special election runoff

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Voters in northeast Texas choose Jill Dutton over Brent Money for special election runoff” 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.

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Jill Dutton has narrowly defeated fellow Republican Brent Money in the special election runoff for a Texas House seat that marked an early flashpoint in the latest Texas GOP civil war.

Dutton’s win marks something of an upset after Money got the support of a who’s who of top Texas Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Attorney General Ken Paxton.

With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Dutton was leading Money by 107 votes, or a margin of less than 1 percentage point, according to unofficial returns. Money reportedly conceded at his election night party in Greenville, while Dutton released a statement celebrating a “resounding victory for conservatives across this district.”

The two Republicans were vying to finish the term of expelled former state Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City. They will face one another again in the March 5 primary for the full term in the solidly red seat.

“While I’m excited to get to work for the people of HD 2, and while I look forward to being sworn into office in the coming days, this race is far from over,” Dutton said. “I look forward to earning your vote again in March.”

In his own statement, Money accused Dutton of turning out Democrats to “steal this seat” and said he trusted that Republicans would “turn out in droves in March” to help him win. He also noted Dutton had a large fundraising advantage throughout the race.

The contest served as a testing ground for the intraparty struggle that escalated after the House impeached Paxton for abuse of office last year — and the Senate acquitted him after a trial months later. The runoff was also the first electoral snapshot of Abbott’s political strength since he set out to build a House GOP majority that is more favorable to school vouchers.

While Paxton and Abbott backed Money, Dutton had the support of allies of House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont — like Texans for Lawsuit Reform — and former Gov. Rick Perry. Money also had the backing of the far-right political universe that came under fire in October after one of its key operatives, Jonathan Stickland, hosted white supremacist Nick Fuentes at his office.

Money is a Greenville lawyer who previously served on the City Council there. Dutton is the former president of the Republican Women of Van Zandt and also was a Van ISD board trustee.

They were the top two finishers in a six-candidate special election in November, with Money getting 32% of the vote and Dutton receiving 25%.

In a unanimous vote last year, the House expelled Slaton after a committee investigation found the married lawmaker got a 19-year-old intern drunk and had sex with her.

The runoff was contentious. Dutton ran radio ads saying Money lied about getting most of his money from a “disgraced PAC with neo-Nazi affiliations,” a reference to the group that Stickland led. Defend Texas Liberty continued to attack Dutton on Money’s behalf, claiming she raised property taxes as a school board member.

When it came to the main issue for Abbott — school vouchers — both candidates voiced support for his agenda. But Dutton had been less supportive of the idea in the past, and she has used the runoff to appeal to educators over Money’s flirtation with overhauling the state’s teacher retirement system.

Abbott’s campaign was quick to congratulate Dutton on X after her win but otherwise did not comment on the outcome.

Dutton had a major fundraising advantage through the runoff. She reported $287,000 in contributions on a campaign finance report covering Jan. 1-20, while Money disclosed $110,000.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/01/30/brent-money-jill-dutton-texas-house-district-2/.

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

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