Paul debuts statewide ad in Texas

A new statewide ad from "Big Bold Texan" Ron Paul hit airwaves Tuesday, the same day he kicks off a three-day, three-city tour of town hall meetings here in Texas. In the 30-second ad Paul calls Rick Santorum a "big spending, debt ceiling raising fiscal liberal," and says Mitt Romney is a "moderate from Massachusetts." You see a brief picture of Newt Gingrich, who is only referred to as the "Moon Colony Guy."

"Only one candidate can stand up for Texas," the ad says, referring to Paul.

In a press release about the "Vote Texas" ad, Paul campaign Chairman Jesse Benton says, "Ron Paul is competing hard in his home state of Texas, and we expect that Texas conservatives will reject flip-flopping Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney and the debt ceiling raising fiscal liberal Rick Santorum.

"Through ‘Vote Texas’ and the campaign’s other efforts, Texas voters will be reminded that Ron Paul is the only Texan in the race, the only veteran in the race, and the only real conservative in the race."

You can see the ad for yourself here:

Williamson County congressman backs Romney

Rep. John Carter, R-Georgetown, endorsed Mitt Romney today. He is one of three Texas congressmen backing the GOP front-runner. Congressman Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, and Congressman Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, also endorsed him.

"It is rare that leaders come along with such a tremendous record in the private and public sectors. Mitt Romney knows how to create jobs – he did it in business and he did it as governor," Carter said in a statement. "Right now, we need a proven job creator to replace President Obama, who has failed in his number one priority of turning around our economy. Mitt Romney has the experience, the plan, and the vision to change the direction of our country. Texas and the rest of the country deserve a leader like him.”

Perry tours tornado damage

LANCASTER, Texas — Gov. Rick Perry toured tornado-damaged areas in North Texas Thursday and met with emergency management officials. During a press conference, Perry suggested Texas would ask for federal disaster relief for areas hit by the storm. He also warned that Tuesday’s disaster is only the beginning of severe weather season in Texas.

"We’re a long way from having tornado season finished with, and about the time we get that done we go into hurricane season. Unfortunately we have a lot of natural disasters in this state, but we’re really blessed to have the people who serve at the local level," Perry said during a press conference in Lancaster.

Ten people were injured there and hundreds of buildings damaged. The tornado that hit Lancaster appears to have been an EF2, with wind speeds up to 135 mph.

You can watch Gov. Perry’s and Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd’s remarks in the video below. State Sen. Royce West and state Rep. Helen Giddings also spoke to reporters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Grassroots group petitions Paul to switch to third party run

Grassroots for Liberty, an online "network" of grassroots activists who support Ron Paul, started a petition to urge the Texas congressman to run as a third party candidate. More than 350 people have signed the petition so far. The group is aiming for 100,000 signatures.

"If we ensure Ron Paul runs up until the general election, we will be speaking to all of America, not just the small percentage of Republicans who vote in primaries," the group wrote in an email to supporters. "90 percent of the 146 million registered voters will participate in the general election. If Ron Paul runs and gets 20% of the vote, that would mean 26 million Americans would be showing their support for our ideas. Imagine the progress!"

Here’s what the petition says:

Dear Ron Paul,

Please run on a third party ticket until November 6th, 2012 to be the next President of the United States of America and to ensure you’ll have the biggest stage to spread the message of liberty around the world.

Ron Paul’s supporters in Austin have told us they do not think Paul will seek a third party nomination. They say they plan to support whoever is named the Republican nominee.

May 29 Texas primary date set

The Texas primary will be held May 29.

The deadline for federal judges to pre-clear redistricting maps was Sunday. A decision would’ve pushed back the already late primary to June, and would mean an even later runoff election.

Now, any changes to redistricting maps won’t take effect until the 2014 election cycle.

April 30 is the deadline to register to vote in the May 29 primary.

Perry donor ordered to pay $195 million for fraud

A Travis County jury Friday ordered Patrick Cox, founder of TaxMasters and big Republican donor, to pay more than $195 mil. for defrauding customers in Texas and elsewhere in the U.S. and committing over 110,000 violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. TaxMasters must pay more than $113 mil. back to its customers.

"Today’s decision marks a significant victory for the Texans and TaxMasters customers nationwide who sought help from TaxMasters with their income tax debts and were taken advantage of in the midst of a national economic downturn," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote in a statement. "While the TaxMasters CEO made hollow promises about fighting for taxpayers and their pocketbooks in television ads, the evidence proved that the firm didn’t even bother to show up when it came time to fulfill those promises, but instead misled and defrauded their customers."

Cox donated to Sen. John Cornyn’s campaign in 2008, and Gov. Rick Perry’s gubernatorial campaign in 2010.

Abbott’s office also accuses TaxMasters of filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in "an apparent effort to avoid the State’s enforcement action."

Gingrich, Paul and Santorum say yes to Texas debate

The Texas Republican Party is hoping to host a nationally televised Republican debate ahead of the state’s May 29 primary. Today, State GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri said Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have committed.

Mitt Romney is the only hold-out. State party officials say they’ve reached out to the Romeny camp, and he’s considering attending the debate. Munisteri said, "I am disappointed that Governor Romney has not yet committed to attending an official Republican Party of Texas event." He called it "disrespectful to all Texas Republicans for a candidate not to attend."

According to Munisteri, an un-named major television network has agreed to carry the debate, but only if all the candidates show up. Tentative dates and a location have been discussed, but no final decisions will be made until Romney makes a decision.

Cornyn is last man standing in Republican Whip race

It’s looking more likely Texas Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, will be the number two among Senate Republicans. Roll Call reports Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, is dropping his bid for Minority Whip.

“In recent weeks, I have come to the realization that the difficult and time-consuming nature of the policy issues I am invested in is not always consistent with a position in leadership. I have introduced many pieces of legislation, including Medicare and Medicaid reform proposals, and I intend to work vigorously to see them enacted. These efforts require serious attention, and they simply cannot be pursued with the focus they demand while also serving as a member of leadership." Burr said in a statement to Roll Call.

Cornyn currently serves as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Romney sets sights on Texas, picks up major endorsement

Republican Mitt Romney is setting his sights on Texas, this week. Romney will kick off a two-day three-city fundraising tour in Dallas. He’ll attend a dinner there, tonight. Tomorrow, Romney makes stops in San Antonio and Houston.

The San Antonio event is closed to the press. In Houston, Romney will be joined by former President and Texan, George H.W. Bush. Bush will formally endorse Romney at an event at the St. Regis hotel. Bush’s endorsement could be a sign that the Republican establishment is rallying around Romney.

Romeny’s visit comes one week after rival Rick Santorum made a swing through the Lone-Star state. With the nomination far from locked up, analysts say Texas’ May 29 primary could play a large role in the republican primary.

Abbott, Cornyn weigh in on SCOTUS health care developments

State Republicans opposed to the Obama administration’s health care law say they’re pleased with the way the proceedings are progressing. Capital Tonight’s Paul Brown spoke with Attorney General Greg Abbott from our Washington D.C. bureau, today.

That interview is here:

Senator John Cornyn and other Republican lawmakers weighed in from Capitol Hill, as well.

Here are Sen. Cornyn’s comments:

We did reach out to the Texas Democratic Party for their thoughts on the proceedings, thus far. We have not heard back.