Texas GOP Senate Primary Heads For Runoff

Texas Republicans will have to wait until the end of August to find out who their nominee to replace Kay Bailey Hutchinson will be:

The Texas Senate race will go another round.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst failed to capture the 50 percent necessary to win the Republican nomination Tuesday, forcing him into an unpredictable nine week run-off campaign with former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite who garnered the blessing of conservative luminaries such as Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and Sen. Jim DeMint.

With 95 percent of the vote in, Dewhurst was leading the second-place Cruz, 45 percent to 34 percent. Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert trailed in third place with 13 percent and former football star and ESPN commentator Craig James barely managed 4 percent of the vote.

Dewhurst, the front-running former CIA agent worth an estimated $200 million, was widely expected to end the night as the leading vote-getter so the result is a win in itself for the insurgent Cruz, who was badly outspent and suffered from far lower name recognition in the nation’s second-most populous state.

The outcome marks the third victory for anti-establishment GOP Senate candidates in as many weeks. Earlier this month, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock upended 36-year Sen. Dick Lugar in Indiana, and state Sen. Deb Fischer upset two better-known candidates in Nebraska.

Facing nominal Democratic opposition in a reliably Republican state, the winner of the July 31 Dewhurst-Cruz run-off is heavily favored to succeed retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Much like the battle earlier this month in Indiana between Dick Lugar and Richard Mourdock, and the Nebraska Senate Primary a few weeks ago, the Dewhurst-Cruz battle became a surrogate for the larger battle between two factions of the Republican Party:

As early as June 2011, conservative commentator and writer George Will penned an entire column on Cruz, dubbing him “a candidate as good as it gets.”

Other conservatives took note.

The Club for Growth devoted an estimated $2.5 million to the race, FreedomWorks assisted with grassroots efforts on the ground and Palin recorded robocalls for Cruz in the closing week.

“This is a major victory for conservatives,” DeMint tweeted Tuesday night. “Dewhurst failed to get a majority because he failed to fight for conservative principles. His false attacks backfired. Now it’s time for freedom-loving Americans everywhere to help @TedCruz win the 7/31 primary run-off.”

“David Dewhurst must now face true conservative Ted Cruz one-on-one and that’s David Dewhurst’s worst nightmare,” said Club For Growth president Chris Chocola in a statement.

Dewhurst remains the favorite in the run-off. Backed by Gov. Rick Perry and much of his political operation, he will still hold a sizable financial advantage and will be able to tap his own deep pockets at a moment’s notice.

“Now, more than ever, we must work to send a proven conservative leader like David Dewhurst to Washington, where he can put the Texas approach to work to overhaul Washington,” Perry said in a statement.

Whoever wins the Republican nomination is going to be the next Senator from Texas, both because Texas remains a deep-red state and this is a Presidential election year and because Texas Democrats have an incredibly lackluster field of potential nominees to choose from.

But Texas now becomes the latest state where grassroots conservative activists will assemble to try to send another message to establishment forces. Cruz swiftly called for a series of five debates with Dewhurst.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Congress, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Scott says:

    As a Texan, it has been a real surprise at the viciousness of the down ballot primaries whether the right and the far right have been tearing each other apart. A lot of outside money is funding even the most local elections.