In Texas, it's deja vu: a tea party insurgent challenging a well-connected and established Republican. In 2014, it's Rep. Steve Stockman against Sen. John Cornyn. In 2012, it was a surprise election that catapulted now-Sen. Ted Cruz to be a household name.
Late Monday, Stockman, slipped his paperwork in just before the filing deadline to run for Senate, according to a spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas. He will face off against Cornyn on March 4 in the primary.
His unexpected announcement stunned politicos back in the Lone Star state. While some in the tea party community have been advocating for someone to challenge Cornyn, few expected Stockman (out of the 25 GOP members of the Texas congressional delegation) to lead the charge.
"Stockman was just crazy enough to say yes," says Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based GOP strategist.
Stockman was elected in 2012. He also served one term in the 1990s. In this second term, however, he has made a name for himself in a short period of time on Capitol Hill. The conservative rabble-rouser has made headlines for calling for President Barack Obama's impeachment and dubbing the Senate's bipartisan immigration bill "unconstitutional". In January, Stockman invited anti-Obama musician Ted Nugent to join him as his guest for the State of the Union.
Stockman's surprise challenge is bringing back a lot of comparisons to Ted Cruz who was able to defeat a well-connected, establishment-favored primary challenger in 2012.
When Cruz sought to challenge Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Texas primary, he kicked off his campaign as an unknown quantity with little name recognition and just a fraction of Dewhurst's war chest in the bank. Yet, the former Texas Solicitor General pulled it off with the assistance of tea party groups like Club for Growth dumping millions into the race to support his cause.
"Everybody thinks they can be the next Ted Cruz. But, Cornyn is not David Dewhurst and Stockman is not Ted Cruz," Mackowiak says.
Stockman's entering the race a better-known conservative than Cruz was, but with a heftier record to defend. And so far, there is no sign that Republican super PACs are coming to his rescue.
"Stockman is placing a big bet on conservatives' enthusiasm for a Cornyn challenger. He is placing a huge bet that outside groups are going to be willing to spend money on him," says Mackowiak.
In recent weeks, a series of stories in the Houston Chronicle, have documented allegations that Stockman's campaign staffers illegally donated to his campaign. The staffers have since been fired. But Stockman has also attracted ire for campaign tactics in the past, which included sending out mailers during his 2012 campaign claiming he was the "most conservative member of Congress" even though he had not served since 1997.
In addition, strategists warn Stockman would need to raise nearly $100,000 a day to be competitive in Texas where a statewide television ad costs upwards of $1 million. Monday, records from the Center for Responsive Politics showed Stockman with a measly $32,000 in the bank and more than $160,000 in campaign debts. By comparison, Cornyn is sitting on roughly $7 million.
"Rep. Stockman has serious challenges ahead with such an early Texas primary and is far behind on fundraising," says GOP strategist Ron Bonjean.
Bonjean adds that Cornyn is no conservative squish either. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has already come out in support of Cornyn.
"John Cornyn is one of the most conservative members in the Senate and a strong leader for the State of Texas. We proudly support Senator Cornyn and while this primary challenge is quite the head scratcher, it will be defeated," NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring told CNN in a statement.
Cornyn, the Republican Party's vote counter in the Senate, has been careful to remain on the side of conservatives as the gun debate and immigration became central topics in the Senate. Cornyn even voted against a bipartisan budget deal to reopen the government in October, siding with fellow Texan Cruz, who had led the campaign.
"Cornyn is well liked in the state and has been very careful to keep close to tea party conservatives," Bonjean says.
There are a little more than 70 days until early voting starts in Texas for the March primary. For now, Cornyn is the establishment's favorite. But, primary races always seem bigger in Texas.