It turned out that Ted Cruz was no Sharron Angle or Christine O’Donnell.
“He was just a good candidate, in addition to being good on policy,” says Brendan Steinhauser, the federal and state campaigns director at FreedomWorks. “Whereas in the past we’ve had some candidates that are great on policy, but not good candidates. But he was everything. He was both.”
“They have to be able to compete on their own, and the Tea Party can help push them over the top,” Steinhauser says, noting that Cruz was a good communicator and campaigner. “We learned that from 2010 with a couple candidates that shall remain nameless: You can’t just win with enthusiasm, you got to have a good candidate.”
Sal Russo, chief strategist of the Tea Party Express, which endorsed Cruz, says that Cruz paired a willingness to be firm on the fiscal issues important to the Tea Party with an ability to run a campaign. “[Candidates] have to demonstrate to us that they understand what it takes to raise the money, and build the organization and the campaign structure to be successful,” Russo says.
So in June of last year, when there were several other candidates (David Dewhurst had not yet announced that he would run, although it was anticipated that he might throw his hat into the ring), FreedomWorks and Club for Growth endorsed Cruz. A month later, so did Jim DeMint, solidifying Cruz’s status as the Tea Party favorite in the race.
“We meet a lot of candidates,” says Chris Chocola, president of Club for Growth. “And a few are extraordinary, and he was one of the extraordinary ones.” Chocola was impressed by Cruz’s background, including his time as a clerk at the Supreme Court and the fact that a teenage Cruz had read and lectured on such thinkers as Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.
But the groups didn’t just endorse. FreedomWorks’ Steinhauser describes extensive work in the state to reach out to activists. “We did 30 grassroots training seminars around the state of Texas where we taught people how to campaign,” he says, talking about helping people develop skills such as running phone banks. “We printed out 30,000 yard signs and they were distributed by our members and allies across the state. We made a total of [over] a million calls going back to January, voter-ID phone calls and get out the vote. We knocked on 125,000 doors.”
“We empowered the grassroots to go out there and do the most powerful marketing tool that there is, which is face-to-face communication,” he adds.
FreedomWorks wasn’t alone: “A bevy of conservative outside groups has poured over $14.4 million into the race, including $3.2 million in just the past week alone,” reported the Center for Responsive Politics earlier this week. Club for Growth Action, the super PAC affiliated with the Club, spent the most: $5.5 million. The Club turned to the Internet, making a “pretty substantial Internet buy,” a move that Chocola says was “not typical” for the group, but that seemed to succeed.
“We think it’s worked pretty well,” he says, talking about the strategy of buying ads that appeared on conservative sites to those accessing the sites from Texas. “When it comes to deciding how to spend money, because of the efficiency or lack thereof in Texas broadcast media, we found the online advertising to be an attractive choice.” FreedomWorks, too, spent extensively on online ads.
The Club also spent on TV ads, as did Senate Conservatives Fund (formerly affiliated with DeMint, but no longer, because of the group’s decision to create a super PAC). “Without that additional air cover,” remarks Texas Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak, “without the ability to unify conservatives nationally and throughout Texas, it would have been very difficult to create the environment that they did” that led to a Cruz victory.
Nor is there much doubt that the groups provided crucial financial assistance. “Without super-PAC spending on TV, Ted Cruz would have been outspent approximately 7–2 in the final week of the campaign,” announced the Club in a memo released earlier this week. “With outside groups, pro-Cruz forces were only outspent approximately 3–2.”
Groups also bundled much-needed donations for the Cruz campaign: The Club raised around $1 million and the Senate Conservatives Fund $700,000. “Ted said privately all along that he thought he needed between 5 and 10 million to have a competitive chance and that was in hard dollars,” recalls Mackowiak.
In the last days before the runoff, all hands were on deck. The Ending Spending Action Fund ran radio ads: Cruz, predicted the fund’s president, Brian Baker, would if elected be an ally in “the fight against out-of-control spending.” The Tea Party Express did a radioathon.
And it paid off when Cruz pulled off a 13-point victory over Dewhurst Tuesday. “I think the lesson here is . . . have a clear, convincing, and competent conservative message, and [be] unapologetic in delivering it,” says Chocola, who sees Cruz as only the latest example of that strategy’s working, after Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey.
Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, is already looking for the next Cruz. Cruz’s victory, he says, should encourage people who are thinking of running for office. “There’s a lot of people out there that think about running for office and they love this country and they know that people need to step up to fight to save it, but they don’t think that they can win a race because they’re not part of the elected establishment,” Hoskins remarks. But Cruz’s longshot victory over a popular and powerful lieutenant governor should dispel that notion.
“We need good candidates to run,” Hoskins adds. “We have a lot of open seats even this cycle where we could have nominated and elected somebody really strong to the U.S. Senate but we just didn’t have any good candidates.”
In other words, they didn’t have a Ted Cruz.
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.