There are few races in the country that better illustrate the GOP struggle between the traditional way of campaigning and the emergence of the tea party than the race to succeed retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas).
It is also part of a generational shift that has created a scramble for future power within the state party.
The March GOP primary has boiled down to two candidates who are drawing most of the attention: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz.
Many Republicans believe this is Dewhurst’s race to lose, even though few will say so with a great deal of confidence. His three strengths are name identification, money and the fact that few people are willing to publicly cross him because even if he does not win the Senate race, he will return to the state as lieutenant governor or as governor, should Rick Perry (R) be elected president.
Among Republican operatives in Austin, there are some who are privately with Cruz but remain reluctant to publicly join his campaign.
Cruz “has the heart,” one non-aligned Republican told Roll Call. “If the war is going to be won by who wants it more, it’s going to be Cruz.”
Adding to that perception is the fact that the Cruz campaign accuses Dewhurst of bypassing town halls and grass-roots events. Dewhurst’s campaign counters that notion, citing his current duties as lieutenant governor, which are all the more demanding with Perry running for president.
The belief among many party strategists is that the GOP contest will be decided in a May 22 runoff, which would be needed if no candidate gets 50 percent in the March 6 primary. Dewhurst is considered a shoo-in to make the runoff.
“Everybody is chasing after Dewhurst,” one Republican said.
That means in many regards the race now is to be the candidate who finishes second in the initial balloting and moves on to face Dewhurst in the runoff. However, this was the same thinking in the 2010 gubernatorial race, when it was considered a given that Hutchison would push Perry into a runoff. But Perry took 53 percent of the vote, eliminating the need for a second contest.
Cruz is best positioned to meet Dewhurst in the runoff, and the two campaigns are an exercise in contrasts.
Dewhurst is a known brand in Texas. He has patiently waited his turn to run for Senate or the governorship. He has served as lieutenant governor since 2003 and has been at the center of major policy decisions during his tenure. He has run statewide for four cycles and his soundbites frequent local newscasts.