Today’s Texas Republican Senate runoff between Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz is more than a mere primary. The winner, after all, is certain to win the seat of retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) in November.
But even more, the result will say something about the state of the GOP, and it could have a long-term effect on the party, in the Senate and more broadly.
On virtually every major issue the Senate is likely to deal with during the next few years, Dewhurst and Cruz begin with the same goals and premises. But in terms of style, rhetoric, legislative philosophy and temperament, the two men are quite different.
Dewhurst, whose father was killed by a drunken driver when he was just 3, has plenty of ambition, and he has spent some of his considerable wealth during the past 15 years running first for land commissioner, then lieutenant governor and now Senator. His speaking style is very measured, and some of his supporters even describe him as “polished” and even “aristocratic.”
“If Dewhurst and Cruz both said we should tear down Washington, D.C., David would say it in a very reasonable, soft-toned way while wearing an impeccably pressed shirt,” one savvy political observer joked to me recently.
Dewhurst’s style is one reason “establishment Republicans” are more comfortable with him than with Cruz, who seems unwilling to pass up even the smallest opportunity to bash the political establishment in Austin and Washington.
Cruz has the backing of the most confrontational conservative elements of his party, ranging from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, RedState’s Erick Erickson and media celebrity Sean Hannity to the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).
Cruz portrays the primary as an ideological battle, and he has referred to Dewhurst as a “timid career politician” who lacks the “backbone to stand up and fight” President Barack Obama and who has agreed to “give away our liberties.”
I interviewed Dewhurst in November of last year. While I certainly would not describe him as “warm and fuzzy,” he was thoughtful, serious and well-versed on matters of public policy. We discussed his background, record, views and campaign. He was relatively easy to interview, meaning he didn’t duck and weave the way some candidates do.