Polls close at 8 p.m. ET. Three things to watch tonight. One: Texas is going to put Romney over the top in delegates so we may get a formal victory speech from Mitt. If so, that’ll be a high-profile media-rich chance to move the spotlight away from Trump and back to his attacks on Obama’s public-equity record. Two: The One might have another long, awkward night ahead thanks once again to John Wolfe, the same Democratic longshot who made O’s spin doctors sweat before the Arkansas Democratic primary. WaPo thinks Obama will actually do better with Texas Democrats than he did in Arkansas and West Virginia — follow the last link for reasons why — but we’ll see.
Three, the main event: Establishment fave David Dewhurst vs. tea-party all-star Ted Cruz for the GOP Senate nomination. Cruz trails by double digits in all of PPP’s polling, but he doesn’t have to win tonight. All he has to do is combine with Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert to deny Dewhurst a majority, which will force a runoff on July 31. Between the (likely) lower turnout for that vote, the explosion in spending on Cruz’s behalf that’s sure to come if he hangs on tonight, and the migration — hopefully — of most of Leppert’s support to Cruz, the tea partier stands a chance of winning that race. (Expect an explosion of spending from Dewhurst too, of course. He’s already spent $12 million of his own money on the race.)
Problem is, per PPP’s last poll, Dewhurst stands at 46 percent. Can Cruz hold him under 50? Roll Call wonders if Cruz will even hold off Leppert:
Although Dewhurst and Cruz are expected to finish one-two, voters have been turned off by the constant sniping between them and the mostly negative attack ads that are running targeting each of the candidates. Some Texas Republicans say this unhappiness offers former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert an outside shot at displacing Cruz and proceeding to a runoff. Leppert has generally been running third, but he was buoyed by the outcome of Nebraska’s GOP Senate primary.
In that contest, state Sen. Deb Fischer won after surging from third to first in the final weeks to upset frontrunner Jon Bruning and tea party favorite Don Stenberg. Nebraska Republicans turned to Fischer as an alternative to Bruning and Stenberg, who along with their supporters engaged in a bitter, negative campaign.
The Leppert campaign, well-funded and considered strong in his Dallas-Fort Worth home base, was “cautiously optimistic” heading into primary day.
“Leppert comes across as a grown-up, and he doesn’t seem angry,” the unaligned Texas GOP insider said, explaining the candidate’s appeal.
PPP had Cruz over Leppert 29/15 in their last poll so the risk of a Fischer-esque ending here seems small, especially since the Dewhurst/Cruz battle has attracted marquee Republican names. Perry and Mike Huckabee are for DD, Sarah Palin is for TC. Perry doubtless would love to see his guy clinch tonight to ease the sting of Romney clinching the presidential nomination on his home turf. Here’s the Texas Secretary of State’s page for Republican primary results, and here’s the Democratic page in case you want to keep an eye on how O’s faring. Stand by for updates.
Update: Mitt Romney is now officially your Republican nominee for president.
Update: Close but no cigar for Dewhurst. The runoff is set for July 31.