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When Ken Paxton attacks

He’s gotta be a little scared.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has started airing a statewide TV ad against his Democratic challenger, Justin Nelson, as Nelson presses to close the race with an emphasis on the indictment that has dogged the Republican incumbent for most of his first term.

Since last week, Nelson, an Austin lawyer, has been airing a TV commercial highlighting Paxton’s 2015 indictment on securities fraud charges, asking, “If Ken Paxton can’t follow the law, how can he enforce it?” Nelson has also put up billboards across the state plastered with Paxton’s mugshot.

In the new spot from Paxton, a narrator asserts Nelson is “running a negative campaign to hide his extreme liberal agenda,” portraying the Democrat as soft on illegal immigration. The half-minute commercial then contrasts Nelson with Paxton, who the narrator says “shut down the world’s largest human trafficking marketplace” — a reference to the attorney general’s role in shuttering the Dallas-based sex ads website Backpage.com.

The ad was seen airing this morning in major markets throughout the state, including Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

The anti-Nelson ad is notable for a number of reasons. Beyond U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in his blockbuster battle with Democrat Beto O’Rourke, most of Texas’ statewide officials have hardly acknowledged their Democratic opponents, let alone run TV ads against them. And Paxton has until now appeared to have kept his TV advertising positive, airing a spot touting his role in the Backpage.com investigation.

It could be an abundance of caution. Paxton believes he’s ahead, but not insurmountably so, and there’s no reason to take chances. It could be a belief that attacks must be answered, lest one look weak or lose initiative. And it could be that he’s genuinely worried. Paxton has refused to engage in any kind of political activity that isn’t all about himself or comfortably in the embrace of the Fox News wingnut universe. If he changes his tactics now, at this late date, there’s a reason for it.

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