In a sharp reversal, North Texas voters pick Brent Money over Jill Dutton in House GOP primary

Brent Money is running in a special election for state House District 2 seat, empty since former state Rep. Brian Slaton, R-Royse City, was expelled from the House.
Brent Money won the GOP primary for Texas House District 2. Credit: Campaign website
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In a whiplash-inducing reversal from only five weeks prior, Republican voters in North Texas’ House District 2 have chosen Brent Money over the recently elected incumbent, state Rep. Jill Dutton.

The Associated Press declared Money the winner at 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

“Tonight’s victory goes to the conservative people in this district who are desperate for a conservative fighter in Austin,” Money said in a statement. “For months, the Austin establishment poured millions of dollars into this district to preserve the status quo, but the voters of HD02 sent their message loud and clear: we will not be bought.”

Dutton was sworn in to office three weeks ago after narrowly beating Money in a special election runoff in late January to fill the unfinished term for former Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, who was expelled for getting an intern drunk and having sex with her.

But Money’s win in the Tuesday Republican primary is the more consequential victory. The win positions Money to hold the two-year term beginning in 2025. Dutton’s term expires at the end of the year, and since there is no regular legislative session scheduled for 2024, she is unlikely to cast a vote while in office.

Money goes on to face the Democratic nominee, Kristen Washington, in the November general election. However, the district — which spans Hopkins, Hunt and Van Zandt counties to the east of Dallas — leans strongly Republican, making Money the district’s likely next lawmaker.

Money is a real estate attorney who previously served on the Greenville City Council and as the Greenville city attorney.

Dutton is a former Van Independent School District board trustee and the founder of the Republican Women of Van Zandt.

The race for House District 2 began with Slaton’s resignation and expulsion in May and soon became a bellwether contest in the fight between warring factions of the Texas GOP and a proxy battle in the aftermath of Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment.

Neither Money nor Dutton were in the Legislature to cast ballots over Paxton’s impeachment, but Money has been vocal in his displeasure about the House’s action, earning him Paxton’s emphatic backing and funding from the attorney general’s allies. Some of those allies, political action committees primarily funded by West Texas oil billionaires Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, provided Money with financial and advertising support. After The Texas Tribune reported that the then-president of Dunn and Wilks’ original PAC hosted notorious white supremacist Nick Fuentes for nearly seven hours, Money refused to turn down the campaign aid, displeasing some would-be supporters and local officials.

Similarly, the two candidates were not involved in the voucher fight in the Legislature, and both candidates say they’re in favor of vouchers. But, Abbott backed Money as part of his fight for education savings accounts.

That endorsement perplexed top political brass in the region. Prior to the first phase of the special election, Dutton had been the Republican establishment’s clear favorite, garnering endorsements from the Associated Republicans of Texas, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, U.S. Rep. Lance Gooden, multiple would-be colleagues within House leadership and the widow of state Rep. Dan Flynn, who preceded Slaton.

But while Dutton publicly stated support for Abbott’s school voucher and called the House’s ill-fated voucher bill a “really good plan,” her history as a Van ISD board trustee positioned her closer to public schools and she had previously been less supportive of vouchers. Moreover, she appealed to educators over Money’s flirtation with overhauling the state’s teacher retirement system. Money full-throatedly supported “school choice.”

Mayors of several cities within HD-2 sent Abbott a letter on Feb. 20 asking Abbott to endorse Dutton. The letter, sent days after she was sworn into office, was led by Money’s hometown mayor — Greenville Mayor Jerry Ransom — and included the mayors of the district’s largest cities. Abbott did not change his endorsement.

Then Trump endorsed Money in the final week of the primary despite Money’s past statements that were critical of Trump, giving Money an important boost and legitimacy to his campaign’s claim that Dutton was a “Republican in name only,” or RINO.

“I think our campaign worked harder, I think we had a better message, I think we had a better strategy, I think we had a better candidate, but I think it’s hard to overcome the endorsement from a president who is incredibly popular,” said Dutton’s campaign manager, Harry Reese. “It hit at the perfect time for him. Donald Trump has no idea who Brent Money is, and if he did, I don’t think he would endorse him.”

Dutton’s biggest endorsements came from former Gov. Rick Perry, members of House leadership and mainstream conservative statewide organizations.

To win tonight, Money had to overcome the well-stocked coffers of Dutton’s campaign.

Dutton had a major fundraising advantage in the race, with well over $1.5 million in contributions since April, a lead she carried through to the primary election. Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC donated at least $350,000 to Dutton’s efforts in the final week of the campaign alone. However, Money received outside support from Dunn’s PACs, Defend Texas Liberty and Texas United for a Conservative Majority, which helped him go toe-to-toe with Dutton’s campaign.

After a second place finish to Money in the six-way special election in November, Dutton narrowly won the January runoff election, beating Money by 110 votes, less than 1 percentage point. It was a victory for Dutton, but a hollow one that projected a long road to the primary election.

Immediately, Money’s campaign began highlighting claims that Dutton won because of over 1,000 runoff voters who historically had voted in the Democratic primary. Unlike in the runoff, which was open to all voters like a general election, voters in the primary selected a Republican ballot to vote in the contest, a key change that may have helped in Money’s victory.

An analysis of early vote turnout in House District 2 by political consultant Derek Ryan suggests that around 2% of the early vote in tonight’s Republican primary came from voters who had most recently voted in a Democratic primary. That’s enough of a drop from the January runoff to have been a deciding factor in the rematch.