In this Tuesday’s Texas Senate primary, Ted Cruz has one objective: Force a runoff.
A primary runoff would allow Cruz to directly square off with lieutenant governor David Dewhurst, who is currently leading in the polls. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two contenders will face each other in a runoff on July 31.
“The best guess right now is there’s going to be a runoff, and the runoff is going to be between Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst,” says Mark P. Jones, a political-science professor at Rice University.
A veritable who’s who of conservative stars have endorsed Cruz, with his backers including Rick Santorum, Jim DeMint, and Rand Paul. FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth have both endorsed him, with the latter spending around $2 million to tout Cruz. National Review has endorsed him, as have talk-radio hosts Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.
Cruz campaign manager John Drogin describes the race as “ground zero in the battle between the tea-party conservatives and the establishment.” He compares it to Indiana, where conservative Richard Mourdock beat Dick Lugar in the recent Senate primary, and to Nebraska, “another situation where a conservative beat an establishment moderate,” when state legislator Deb Fischer defeated the state treasurer and state attorney general in a primary. Like Fischer, Cruz has been endorsed by Sarah Palin.
“It’s reflective of the divide we have here in Texas, and throughout much of the country, between establishment conservatives and movement conservatives,” Jones says of the race.
“And Dewhurst is clearly an establishment conservative,” Jones adds. “He’s been a very successful lieutenant governor; he’s backed by what we often call the Austin lobby, or the principal business interests here in Texas. He’s backed by most of the GOP establishment here in Texas, but where he lacks some support is the grassroots.”
The Cruz campaign is quick to tout the grassroots enthusiasm for his candidacy. “There have been 25 straw polls; Ted’s won them all against the major candidates by wide margins, about 40 percent average against Dewhurst and the other major candidates,” Drogin remarks. “In terms of endorsements on the ground, we have over 150 Texas tea-party leaders endorsing Ted.”
Dewhurst’s campaign is confident that he can win decisively on Tuesday, avoiding a runoff. “Things are going great,” says spokesman Matt Hirsch. “We’re running this campaign to win without a runoff on May 29.” One recent boost is an ad featuring Rick Perry, who is backing Dewhurst. “David’s the one candidate best prepared to make conservative change happen in Washington,” Perry says in the spot. “Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Our country needs him and so does Texas.”
Complicating the race further is Dallas mayor Tom Leppert, who is currently running third. “Our internal polls show that it’s a very close race for second place,” says Leppert spokesman Daniel Keylin. “We like where we are right now. It’s clearly a two-man race for second place and a spot in that runoff. There will be a runoff, it’s just a matter of who.”
Polls are mixed. A Public Policy Polling survey, released today, has Dewhurst in first place at 46 percent, with Cruz in second at 29 percent (Leppert, a distant third, gets 14 percent). A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released earlier this week shows Dewhurst in first place at 40 percent, followed by Cruz (31 percent) and Leppert (17 percent), although the fact that the poll was conducted online has drawn criticism from both the Dewhurst and Leppert campaigns.
Professor Jones, for his part, thinks that Leppert’s presence may be helping Cruz. “Were Leppert not in the race, self-funding and up on the air statewide, Dewhurst would win without a runoff,” he comments. “What Leppert is doing is drawing many voters who otherwise would most likely be voting for David Dewhurst.”
He also thinks that a runoff wouldn’t necessarily lead to victory for Cruz, because of Dewhurst’s “overwhelming financial advantage.” Still, he acknowledges that the enthusiasm level among Cruz supporters means Cruz will “be able to turn out a larger proportion of his supporters than Dewhurst.”
“If I had to rate the race, I’d say Dewhurst will be the favorite, but it’ll be a competitive race,” he says. “Because of [Dewhurst’s] personal wealth, and his support among the Texas business elite, he will have unlimited funds at his disposal,” he adds. Dewhurst has already spent about $9.2 million of his own money in the campaign, while Cruz has spent about $500,000, per the Associated Press.
The Cruz campaign maintains that if he has a chance to go one-on-one against Dewhurst, he will be able to win.
“We think that our chances are very, very good in a runoff,” Drogin says, confident that Cruz will be able to turn out more voters on a hot July election day than Dewhurst will. “Many political commentators as well,” he adds, “say this scenario would be a nightmare for Dewhurst.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.