Houston — Ted Cruz, the former solicitor general of Texas, made it plain last night that his success in forcing a July runoff for Texas’s open U.S. Senate seat had national implications. “This is a victory for conservatives,” he told a crowd of 300 supporters here at the Houston JW Marriott hotel as it became clear he had held Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst below the 50 percent of the vote he needed to win the GOP primary outright. “This will now be Ground Zero in the battle between the moderate establishment and the tidal wave of the Tea Party that is sweeping the country.” The winner will almost certainly be the state’s next senator — no Democrat has won a major statewide race in Texas since 1994.
Cruz, who was featured on a National Review cover last year as an up-and-coming conservative, was jubilant last night. “Reports of the Tea Party’s demise have been wrong this year,” he told me. “We saw Senator Lugar lose badly in Indiana, we saw Senator Hatch forced into a primary next month in Utah, we saw Deb Fischer win over two statewide political figures in Nebraska’s Senate race, and now we have the establishment surprised here in Texas.” He credits the overwhelming support of national conservatives such as Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, and Sean Hannity — and National Review’s endorsement — with helping him overcome the state’s united political establishment, which almost completely backed Dewhurst, the state’s powerful lieutenant governor.
A year ago, no one would have predicted that the 67-year-old Dewhurst would be fighting for his political life now. A statewide office-holder for the last 14 years, Dewhurst’s overwhelming name recognition and the total support of the state’s political establishment made him the prohibitive favorite. He poured nearly $10 million of his personal fortune into the race, outspending Cruz and his allies such as the Club for Growth by well over two to one.
#more#But Dewhurst was able only to outpace Cruz by 45 percent to 34 percent. Now the race goes to a runoff in the heat of late July. Traditionally, runoffs in Texas attract only half of the turnout of a regular primary and those who vote are traditionally the party’s most conservative activists. And this year the primary is months later than normal due to a wrangle over the redistricting of the state’s districts. “A July 31 primary will be even tougher to get Dewhurst supporters out,” says Austen Furse, a businessman who backed Cruz. “You walk through the River Oaks Club (in the city’s toniest neighborhood) in July, and the place is empty, since everyone has gone out-of-state to flee the heat.”
David Grimes, a member of Houston’s elite “C” Club, says Dewhurst knows he faces tough odds. “I spoke with him this morning,” he told me. “He said if there is a runoff he wasn’t going to put more of his own money in the race.” Dewhurst allies I spoke with dispute such notions and say they plan a vigorous runoff effort, although they privately acknowledge that many lobbyists and business owners who backed Dewhurst in the initial primary may be tapped out for the runoff.
Cruz believes that Dewhurst will pour more of his estimated $200 million fortune into the race. “He will double down,” he told me. “This is it for him.”
A big question will be how Dewhurst directs his attacks on Cruz, a figure popular with grassroots conservatives. In the first primary, Dewhurst ads attacked Cruz’s legal work for a Chinese company in an international intellectual property case involving an American company and accused him of supporting amnesty for illegal aliens. Cruz, whose family immigrated to Texas from Cuba in the 1950s and is fiercely anti-Communist, said he resented those attacks. Last night, he challenged Dewhurst to five debates statewide, claiming that the longtime officeholder had skipped 35 forums during the primary. “He even had his face printed on a milk carton at the Garland Tea Party debate and placed on a chair,” Cruz recounted to me. “A sign next to it asked ‘Where Is This Man?’”
Cruz says it’s only fair that Dewhurst show himself in public. “If he wants to make the case to the people of Texas that he thinks I’m an amnesty-supporting, China-loving, pinko liberal then I encourage him to do so — in person,” he told his supporters last night.