From left: Sens. Jim DeMint, Rand Paul and Mike Lee are among the most prominent Washington politicians attempting to assist conservative tea party candidates across the country.
In Texas’ Cruz, who is ethnically Cuban, the D.C. tea party community sees another Rubio. But where Rubio steadily moved from heavy underdog in his primary against a sitting governor to strong favorite, raising vast sums of money, Cruz has struggled. Dewhurst remains the candidate to beat, and some Texas Republicans say Cruz would be a nonentity if not for the support he’s received from Washington, D.C., although they concede he might yet win the primary.
“Cruz does not have the funds to compete himself. If not for the outside groups, no one would even know who he is. He is 100 percent propped up by outside groups,” said a Republican strategist monitoring the Texas Senate primary. “A large amount of dough on TV helps Cruz; a large amount coming in to whack Dewhurst keeps the runoff in play.”
If the winner of the May 29 primary doesn’t crack 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will proceed to a July 31 runoff. If the race heads to a runoff, either Cruz or former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert are considered the likely candidates to join the lieutenant governor in round two of the primary.
Cruz’s Washington backers dispute charges that he would be a weak candidate without their help. But many Republicans watching this contest say his prospects depend on how forcefully they support him. Strategically, organizations like the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund political action committee have to consider the cost of advertising in Texas’ 20 media markets and weigh jumping now versus playing in the runoff, figuring that the crowded primary will keep Dewhurst below 50 percent.
Advertising in the Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth markets alone can cost $1.2 million per week, and outside groups are often charged 20 percent to 25 percent more.
The Senate Conservatives Fund, viewing the initial campaign as the heavier lift, is likely to use its resources to help get Cruz into the runoff, where it feels he will have a good chance of beating Dewhurst. The runoff has been part of the Club for Growth’s ad-spending calculation all along in Texas. After an initial ad buy in January, the club re-entered the Texas market last week with a $1 million ad buy slamming Dewhurst.
“We knew when we got involved in this race that it would be very expensive,” Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller said. “Ted Cruz is worth it.”
In Nebraska, the topsoil has been shifting — but not in Stenberg’s favor. State Attorney General Jon Bruning has been considered the establishment favorite and likely nominee for months. But he has stumbled at times. Cornhusker Republicans conclude he will probably win, but it will not be the blowout many were expecting. At the same time, many now predict that state Sen. Deb Fischer will pass Stenberg and finish second.