HOUSTON — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz are headed to a July 31 runoff to determine the Republican nominee for Senate, igniting a showdown between the Washington, D.C., tea party community and the Texas GOP establishment.
With 35 percent of precincts reporting, Dewhurst led the primary field with 47 percent of the vote, followed by Cruz at 32 percent. But Dewhurst failed to garner 50 percent of the vote, giving Cruz another shot at upsetting the generally popular lieutenant governor. Dewhurst has been the favorite in this race throughout the campaign and has never trailed in polling of the contest.
"It was always going to be a little bit of a long shot to win with 50-plus percent," Dewhurst said in a pre-taped interview on local Houston television.
Cruz has garnered the strong support of tea-party-affiliated Senators, such as Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Rand Paul (Ky.), and conservative activist groups based in Washington, D.C., including the Club For Growth and FreedomWorks. Their money and public support has been indispensable in making Cruz competitive with the wealthy lieutenant governor, who has poured almost $10 million of his own money into the Senate race.
Cruz advancing to the runoff is a welcome development for Beltway-based conservatives who have been playing in GOP primaries with the hopes of recreating some of the tea party movement's 2010 magic — especially after falling way short with their preferred candidate in the Nebraska Senate GOP primary earlier this month.
Republicans in Texas have long considered Dewhurst a stalwart conservative. He has the strong support of several Texas-based conservative groups, not to mention Gov. Rick Perry (R). But Cruz and his backers have charged him with being an establishment moderate, and D.C. conservative activists see an opportunity to bolster the ranks of tea-party-friendly Senators in the mold of Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) — both are ethnic Cubans. Though Cruz has struggled at times, his supporters are optimistic about his chances in a runoff.
Cruz backers argue the runoff is likely to shape up as a repeat of the 2010 gubernatorial primary. It’s “Kay vs. Rick all over again,” one source said, referring to the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary between Perry and retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison that Perry dominated after painting Hutchison as a creature of the establishment.
Earlier today, Dewhurst likened Cruz to President Barack Obama, tarring his opponent as a liar and the bought-and-paid-for candidate of Washington insiders. The lieutenant governor said Cruz is practicing the same negative attacks that Obama is using against presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
“What we’re seeing in Washington is President Obama, who can’t run on his record, is now running on the politics of personal destruction of Gov. Romney. And I submit that Mr. Cruz has no record, and so he’s trying to run against me by impugning my fiscally conservative and social conservative record,” Dewhurst told reporters, before speaking to voters inside Kenny & Ziggy’s Deli in the tony Galleria neighborhood, just west of downtown Houston, where he made his only campaign stop of primary day. “Mr. Cruz will lie and say one thing one day, and he’ll say something else the next.”