AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Mitt Romney rallied with Kid Rock and President George W. Bush had a fan in Alice Cooper. But a Ted Nugent encore in the Texas governor's race is growing unlikely after blowback from Republican Greg Abbott's embrace of the ultimate shock rocker.
Call it a rare case of veering too far right in Texas this election year.
Abbott, the leading Republican candidate to succeed Gov. Rick Perry, acknowledged Friday that Nugent calling President Barack Obama a "subhuman mongrel" last month merited an apology. The brash gun-right activist made two campaign appearances with Abbott this week.
Nugent, who has also suggested treating immigrants like "indentured servants," had apologized earlier Friday for the Obama slur after it was disavowed by Gov. Rick Perry and Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
But Abbott, who until now had claimed ignorance about Nugent's divisive comments, didn't back away from inviting Nugent to rallies in the first place.
"This is not the kind of language I would use or endorse in any way. It's time to move beyond this, and I will continue to focus on the issues that matter to Texans," Abbott said in a statement.
The Nugent flap was the latest example of GOP candidates staying unabashedly to the right as they approach the state's March 4 primary, which will move Texas closer to its biggest power shakeup in a decade. Every statewide office could change hands this November. Perry and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz could also present two potential 2016 presidential candidates from Texas.
The tone of the GOP race contrasts with assertions by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and her party that Texas is becoming a broader political battleground as its demographics change.
Provocative conservative proposals to repeal the 17th Amendment, which lets voters — not state legislatures — pick U.S. senators, have been kicked around in the race for lieutenant governor. One of the candidates called the flow of immigrants from Mexico an "invasion." Anti-abortion credentials are discussed as freely as energy ideas among Republicans vying to regulate the state's oil and gas industry.
Within the last year, Texas passed a divisive 20-week ban on abortions, imposed cuts that caused Planned Parenthood clinics to shutter and enacted one of the nation's most stringent voter ID laws. That hasn't protected the Republican House speaker, however, from a far-right group that has collected six-figure donations for primary challengers against him and top lieutenants.
The tack reflects a clear judgment about Republican voters' tastes. "All they seem to argue about is who's the most conservative — which is good for me," said voter Bob Baker after taking his seat at a Republican primary debate near Austin. "Just as normal as they shouldn't have any conservatives in New York, we shouldn't have any liberals in Texas."