Texas’ Senate seat just became ground zero in the struggle for the soul of the GOP between constitutional conservatives and the establishment. Rising GOP starTed Cruz managed to keep ultra-wealthy Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst from winning the May 29 primary, and now the two of them go to a runoff election on July 31.
Nine Republicans ran in the GOP primary for the open U.S. Senate seat in the Lone Star State. Under Texas law, if anyone wins a majority, it’s over. If not, the top two contenders go to a runoff. Dewhurst, a long-term statewide officeholder who spent roughly a million dollars per week for the past couple months trying to secure the nomination, fell short of a majority. He ended with 45% to Cruz’s 34%. Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert finished third with 14%, with everyone else in single digits.
So now Cruz and Dewhurt will square off on July 31, wherein Cruz should now be favored for an upset for four reasons.
First, Cruz will now get all sorts of additional major media attention, and Dewhurst’s image of inevitability has been shattered. That extra time allows Cruz to get his message out to millions of voters who don’t know much about him. Texas is a huge state (second only to Alaska in terms of geography and second only to California in population). Polls showed that Cruz lagged far behind Dewhurst in terms of name identification. That’s going to change now.
Second, in such a race you tend to have the establishment vote—similar to the vote an incumbent receives—and the anti-establishment vote. Dewhurst is the establishment. Most of the supporters for the other candidates were essentially anti-Dewhurst voters, splitting between eight candidates, of which Cruz was the runaway winner. Now that it’s a two-man race most of those voters will rally to Cruz.
Third, July 31 will be a special election in which the Senate primary will be the only statewide question on the ballot. Voters who take the time to go to the polls for such an event tend to be core members of the base, so in this Republican contest they will tend to be the more conservative members of the party. This heavily favors Cruz, a constitutional conservative beloved by principled economic conservatives and social conservatives alike. That is why, in recent weeks, Cruz has received endorsements from Senators like Jim DeMint, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul--iconic conservative leaders like Governor Sarah Palin, and conservative media giants like Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.
And fourth, now that Cruz has shown he can do it, many people who sat on the fence in terms of endorsements or fundraising for fear of alienating Dewhurst will consider Cruz a safer bet, and will shift their reputations and resources to support Cruz. Dewhurst’s best hope is to continue tapping into his massive $200 million personal wealth to carpet Texas in negative ads against Cruz. If Cruz raises enough money to get his message out, he’ll be able to push back.
So all eyes will stay on Texas, as this race becomes the focal point in the contest between business-as-usual versus a Ronald Reagan vision of returning Republicans to the Constitution. Too often Republicans have been part of the problem in this country. Now Texas Republicans get to decide whether they want a senator who will clearly be part of the solution.