Polls close at 8 p.m. ET. Two months ago, PPP had Dewhurst leading — by 25 points. As of yesterday, Cruz leads by 10 and is poised for arguably the most momentous upset in the brief but successful history of grassroots conservative challenges. How’d he do it? Not so much with sharp policy differences (although Cruz has taken care to paint Dewhurst as a squish, natch) as with good ol’ fashioned populism:
Voters who aren’t happy with the way things are going are throwing out people they blame for the mess, regardless of ideology. It sometimes looks like the Tea Party, but it’s not the same. Those early Tea Party rallies three years ago were all about economics; these races are drawing people from social to fiscal conservatives. That’s why “Washington” is a dirty word, and “lawyer” is a hex…
The establishment has lined up behind Dewhurst. A few have migrated to Cruz, but if you ask an incumbent Republican in Austin who they like in this primary, you’re more likely to find a Dewhurst supporter. The insiders like him because he’s an insider and there’s no pressing ideological reason for the conservatives to ditch him, either…
A Cruz win would be a success for those who’d like to bloody the establishment’s noses, to tell the people in Washington and Austin that the public is angry and that there will be consequences. It could embolden challengers and prompt incumbents to grab their teddy bears and suck their thumbs…
In the Senate race, Dewhurst has wagered they are voting against the Democrats in Washington. Cruz bets they’re voting against the establishment. Ideology is in there somewhere. So is the question of why most people aren’t interested in coming to the polls at all.
That sounds like a critique of tea-party power but it really isn’t. The claim isn’t that tea partiers aren’t driving this; of course they are. The claim is that there’s so much antiestablishment sentiment out there across the electorate that TP candidates might be getting a fresh look from non-TPers. Dewhurst’s problem isn’t so much that he’s a RINO as that, with nine years as lieutenant governor, he’s vulnerable to criticism that he’s a consummate “business as usual” candidate. Who wants business as usual right now? And Cruz, of course, is a star in the making with special appeal potentially to the Latino voters whom the GOP covets. It’s entirely rational to want to roll the dice on him instead of rubber-stamping an older mainstay of the Texas GOP. In fact, baseball fan that I am, today’s trading deadline made me think of this race as a sort of roster move. Texas Republicans are DFAing a decent but past-his-prime slugger in favor of a 20-year-old who’s hitting .400 at AAA. Ted Cruz — the GOP’s Mike Trout.
And as with all good hitters, it helps to have plenty of protection in the line-up:
Another part of Cruz’s strategy involved nationalizing the race and attracting prominent conservatives to boost his credentials and name recognition. Tea Party darling and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, along with South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, a conservative stalwart, rallied 1,500 supporters in Houston over the weekend on Cruz’s behalf. Before the May primary, Palin voiced robo-calls for Cruz, calling him a trustworthy conservative who would change “the way Washington does businesses” and noting that the candidate’s father fled Cuba “seeking freedom.”…
Conservative groups have spent heavily on this race to contend with Dewhurst’s financial advantages. For example, Club for Growth spent $1.5 million on behalf of Cruz in the last week, and $5.5 million on independent expenditures throughout the campaign, most of it targeting Dewhurst. DeMint’s super PAC, Senate Conservatives Action, also ran ads in the state for Cruz.
Dewhurst spent, if you can believe it, $25 million on the race, including more than $16 million of his own money. And it may yet pay off: As impressive as yesterday’s PPP poll was for Cruz, WaPo notes that Dewhurst outspent him in TV ads by more than $1 million over the final week and that early voting, which favored Dewhurst in the first primary election (this one is a run-off), is once again “robust.” In fact, for what it’s worth, Dewhurst’s own internal poll had him up five points as recently as last week. Believe it or not, there are plenty of non-tea party Republicans even in Texas. I think Cruz will win, but I’d bet the margin is closer to four or five points than nine or 10.
Here’s the results page at the Texas Secretary of State’s website so that you can track returns. Stand by for updates and a dramatic conclusion.
Update: Bad omens for Dewhurst…
@tedcruz sweeps the four big NTX counties that Dewhurst needed to win or run very strong. Denton County goes to @tedcruz 62-38.
Update: The Senate’s tea-party caucus will have a new member next year:
Tea party-backed Ted Cruz has defeated Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.
The former state solicitor general won the runoff Tuesday. He’d lost the May 29 primary by a large margin but forced the runoff because Dewhurst fell short of a majority. Cruz advances to the November election to succeed retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Says Dan Foster of NRO, “This is how you make the Senate more conservative, primary a guy in a safe seat with an excellent challenger. This is the anti-Delaware ’10.” I’ll bet Cruz is already being slotted for a speech at the convention.
Update: I think the occasion warrants a cameo.