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For years, nearly a dozen would-be Senators waited in the wings for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) to retire. But the free-for-all primary of ambitious Texas Republicans never materialized, as many cowered in the face of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s (R) personal fortune, pervasive name identification and presumed popularity.
However, Dewhurst could ultimately fall to the previously unknown and poorly funded Ted Cruz, the former state solicitor general. It is an astonishing turn of events.
Plausible paths to victory remain for both candidates. But in the waning days of the GOP primary runoff campaign, most Texas Republican insiders, including Dewhurst backers, gave Cruz the edge.
The Dewhurst campaign’s closing pitch attempted to portray the race as Texas versus Washington. “The race has boiled down to Texas conservatives supporting David Dewhurst against D.C. special interests supporting Ted Cruz. At the end of the day, Texans are not interested in having D.C. special interests come to Texas trying to handpick the next U.S. Senator,” Dewhurst spokesman Matt Hirsch said.
But it was not Texas versus Washington so much as the Texas political class versus national tea party celebrities such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who made last-minute get-out-the-vote appearances on Cruz’s behalf. As Cruz gained momentum, the Austin clique scrambled to support Dewhurst, led by Gov. Rick Perry, who has generally been a favorite of conservative activists since he defeated Hutchison in the 2010 gubernatorial primary.
But conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund countered Dewhurst’s war chest, helping to lift Cruz to a position where many now consider him today’s frontrunner. “Our voters are very excited and motivated,” Cruz communications director James Bernsen said.
Texas primary elections are usually held in early March with runoffs in April. But legal disputes over redistricting pushed the primary to late May and the runoff to today — later than anyone can remember such contests occurring in Texas. Consequently, reliable pollsters have disagreed over how to determine which voters will be motivated enough to turn out in 100-degree temperatures during the height of the summer vacation season.
Many were surprised when former state Rep. Paul Sadler was pushed into a runoff by a complete political unknown: retired educator Grady Yarbrough. Democrats are confident Sadler will cruise to the nomination in today’s runoff, but he appears all but certain to lose the general election to the GOP nominee in November.
The top two competitors in this Republican primary race are radio talk-show host Martha Zoller and state Rep. Doug Collins. Collins is close with Gov. Nathan Deal (R) and has the support of the Atlanta GOP establishment. Zoller has pulled local and national tea party support, including an endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R). Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Palin have done robocalls for Zoller in recent days.
Collins didn’t have real success at fundraising during the course of the campaign, and Zoller had even more trouble raising money — she had less than $8,000 in the bank as of July 11. That made for a very low-budget race.