In Texas, the Senate Republican primary is about to get hot — literally, with the candidate who can motivate voters to turn out in the Lone Star State’s scorching summer heat likely to come out on top in this bitter contest.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst should have the edge over former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R). But the establishment favorite is in trouble against the tea party darling, as even Dewhurst supporters wonder whether the Austin fixture can inspire voters to show up at the polls July 31, a day when the temperature averages almost 100 degrees in much of the state and most Texans are concentrating on their summer vacation, not on voting in a runoff election.
“Dewhurst’s problem is that he inspires no one — so he is going to have a harder time getting people to come out and vote for him,” said an Austin Republican operative who is still mulling how he will vote.
It is a sentiment echoed in almost every conversation about the race, even among those rooting for Dewhurst. No one can remember a statewide election taking place so late in the summer, and there is a great deal of uncertainty as to how that timing will affect ballot returns. Texas primaries usually occur in March, but they were pushed this year because of a disagreement over redistricting.
Dewhurst won the May 29 primary but failed to secure the more than 50 percent of the vote he needed to avoid a runoff.
Dewhurst strategists are banking on senior citizens pushing him over the finish line. This is a reliable voting bloc that has voted for Dewhurst several times and will not be discouraged by the unusual timing of the runoff or the summer heat, Dewhurst backers contend.
One Dewhurst supporter not affiliated with the campaign noted that registered voters older than 65 can mail in ballots. He suggested that Dewhurst should invest heavily in an absentee ballot program targeting seniors.
Dewhurst’s war chest is formidable. But most observers anticipate Cruz will have a strong second-quarter fundraising report. And groups such as the Club for Growth are positioned once again to invest heavily in television ads for Cruz. In fact, Cruz has received substantial support from Washington-based conservative activist groups.
Dewhurst is already back up on television — and Cruz and the club expected to go on the air after the July Fourth holiday. But Dewhurst supporters claim they are not concerned that Cruz could reach financial parity with the lieutenant governor.
“That’s not really a concern of ours,” a Dewhurst campaign source said.