All along, for more than two years, former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz has held two strategies as the keys to being elected as the Republican Senate nominee from Texas. The first strategy would see him spending week after week on the road all across the Lone Star State. A relative unknown who had only held an obscure appointed office, and with no elective office victories on his resume but a strong story to tell, Cruz would boost his name ID across the state by visiting every inch of it. So for about two years, Cruz and his campaign manager John Drogin reached out to every Republican club in just about every town in Texas. From the panhandle to the Rio Grande Valley, from El Paso to the piney woods out east, Cruz would drive from one end of the huge state to the other, speaking to every club of every size that would hear him. He explained his message of smaller government, fighting for Texas values against Washington encroachment, and he told his family’s tale of exile from tyranny in Castro’s Cuba. Cruz was already out there telling this story when I moved back to Texas in 2009. The former solicitor general’s name ID inched up week upon week.
But Cruz always knew he would trail in the money race and in the influence race, and would probably face the very wealthy and extremely powerful Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. So he had a second strategy: Make it past the primary to the runoff and win there. He and Drogin banked on the Texas Republican primary delivering a divided result, and as long as Cruz held second place he would get into a runoff that he could win, thanks to the first strategy of taking his record and ideas to Tea Party and Republican groups all over the state.
Tonight, both strategies have been vindicated.
Ted Cruz’s runoff win all but assures that will be Texas’ next Senator. The Democrats have not won a statewide seat in Texas since 1994, and never fielded a credible candidate for Senate this time.
The May 29th primary had been pushed back by court squabbles over the state’s new electoral map, which gave the Cruz campaign time to raise more money and to continue raising the candidate’s name ID around the state. The day of the primary vote, Dewhurst finished comfortably ahead but below the 50% threshold that would have prevented a runoff. Cruz and Drogin knew they were within striking distance. The post-primary endorsement of Dewhurst by former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert did nothing to dissuade them; the campaign had argued all along that Leppert’s appeal would never get past Dallas, and his third place showing on May 29 revealed that to be true.
Cruz ran to the right in the race, picking up the Tea Party mantle, snagging the Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint endorsements, and riding a wave of online activist support and started outpacing Dewhurst in the monthly fundraising race. Casting himself, or allowing allies to cast him, as the “Marco Rubio of Texas,” didn’t hurt.
To counter Cruz’s gathering momentum, the Dewhurst campaign touted the endorsements of Gov. Rick Perry and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The Dewhurst campaign retooled a couple of times and then went harshly negative. In ads that owned Texas radio and TV signals for weeks, Dewhurst blasted Cruz with everything and the kitchen sink — China came up, the tragic suicide of a young man placed in the Texas juvenile justice system came up, just about everything came up. But none of the attacks made much sense, and none of them stuck. A last minute pair of dirty tricks, of unknown origin but favoring Dewhurst, seem to have done nothing but galvanize the Cruz campaign that they were on target for a big upset. The most expensive Senate race in Texas history came down to having a candidate who could inspire Texas Republicans to believe, and that candidate is Ted Cruz.
Cruz’s win puts a conservative, Tea Party advocate in Washington and also reflects the changing face of the state’s Republican Party. The Texas GOP is far from the caricature of a typically white southern GOP, but Sen. Cruz will be a banner-carrier for the state who happens to carry Hispanic heritage. For a key Republican state that is already demographically majority minority, the significance of this should not be lost. The 2010 Texas GOP primary saw voters reject incumbent Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo, who blamed his loss on his Hispanic name. Carrillo was arguably the most qualified member of that board, but it was likely his illness in the primary and the obscurity of the commission itself that contributed to his defeat. But it still stung Hispanic Republicans and others who wondered if he had a point. Cruz’s thumping win in the Senate runoff undoes the damage from that primary two years ago.
The Tea Party picked up other GOP runoff wins in Texas, notably Dr. Donna Campbell in the state Senate race 25. She is a leader to watch. Former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams has fought off a runoff challenge in Texas Congressional District 25. But Cruz’s win is the star, and it is comprehensive. He won all across the Lone Star State, in the large cities (except liberal Austin*) and in the rural areas. He won comfortably, with about 53% of the vote. Cruz’s win is a strong sign that the Tea Party is capable of backing a strong candidate against a stronger candidate, at least on paper, and backing that candidate to a resounding victory.
*At the time this article was published, Dewhurst led in Austin, but Cruz ended up winning there as well. Finally tally: 56.2% for Cruz, to 43.79% for Dewhurst.