Does that look like the picture of a man who just lost an election? Former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz finished ten percentage points behind Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in Tuesday’s Republican U.S. Senate primary, but with Dewhurst falling around five points short of the fifty percent required to avoid a runoff, second place was just as good for Cruz.
As Dave Mann of the Texas Observer noted, Cruz immediately went on the offensive, trumpeting the “ SHOWDOWN” (and continuing to call himself a “Cruz Missile” against “the Establishment”) on his website.
While there wasn’t much to say on Tuesday night that hadn’t already been said —the result was pretty much in line with recent polls—there are still new questions to be answered. Here’s five things that we’ll find out about the race over the next the nine weeks.
1. The Turnout Question
“Cruz’s supporters have been among the most engaged of any campaign in Texas this year and could give him an edge in a mid-summer runoff expected to draw anemic turnout,” wrote Aman Batheja and Jay Root of the Texas Tribune, which has been the conventional wisdom almost since Day 1.
Not for nothing did Dewhurst spend almost $16 million on the race. It was supposed to end on Tuesday. Or rather, it was supposed to end March 6. As Doug Miller of KHOU tweeted:
Just talking to Dewhurst campaign people.They’re convinced if the primary had happened in March, they’d have won without a runoff.
— Doug Miller (@DougMillerKHOU) May 29, 2012
Still, GOP consultant and Cruz supporter Matt Mackowiak told the Dallas Morning News ’s Wayne Slater that after the euphoria of Tuesday’s win wears off, “I do think it will be a little bit difficult to sustain that.”
And, as Kate Alexander of the Austin American-Statesman reported, pollster Mike Baselice noted (in an internal memo commissioned by the Dewhurst campaign) that “every Republican candidate with over 43 percent going into a statewide runoff during the last 20 years has gone on to win.”
2. The Debate Question
As Cruz and former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert liked to point out every chance they could, Dewhurst was a no-show at several dozen campaign forums and debates around the state. Now Cruz has challenged him to change that for the two-man race.
“In this first round, which was supposed to be the only round, my opponent made a decision that the people didn’t matter,” Cruz said, as Peggy Fikac of the San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle reported. “I am hopeful in this second round that the establishment has learned its lesson.”
Cruz wants to have five debates and said, in reference to the way Dewhurst has characterized him in campaign ads, “If he wants to make the case to Texans that I’m an amnesty-suporting, China-loving pinko, I invite him to do so –- in person.”
3. The Leppert Question
“The big questions will be which candidate wins the support of the people who voted for Tom Leppert,” wrote the Observer’s Mann.
The former Dallas mayor ended up with 13.3 percent, and according to the Statesman’s Alexander, Dewhurst’s campaign found (based on Baselice’s poll) that Leppert’s voters “heavily” prefer him over Cruz.
This does seem plausible—in a race where all the candidates were brandishing conservative credentials, Leppert’s demeanor, and his pedigree of business experience and government experience, is more like the lite guv than than the Tea Party favorite. Leppert did not endorse a candidate last night, but didn’t seem to be a big Cruz fan during April’s WFAA debate .
4. The Outsider Question
“This evening we’ve seen a clear message from the voters to the Washington insiders, special interests — don’t mess with Texas,” Dewhurst said in his semi-victory speech on Tuesday. “Texans want to elect their own U.S. senator.”
This is probably the most confusing thing about the race. Cruz is the insurgent candidate, backed by Tea Party and, as the Associated Press calls them , “limited government” groups like the Club for Growth and South Carolina senator Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, which said that “Cruz has prevented his establishment-backed opponent, David Dewhurst, from winning the primary election for U.S. Senate.”
Also big on Cruz is Red State blogger Erick Erickson, who tweeted:
Give every penny you can spare ASAP to Ted Cruz. tedcruz.org
— Erick Erickson (@ EWErickson) May 30, 2012
But these are the same people who were all-in with Rick Perry during his presidential campaign. He was an outsider who was supposed to shake up Washington. Now he and his Lieutenant Governor are “establishment,” and the insurgent forces that were once for Perry and are now for Cruz have become “Washington insiders” and “special interests.”
Perry himself, of course, has stood by his number two since Dewhurst joined him on the presidential trail in Iowa. On Tuesday, the governor released a statement that said:
Now, more than ever, we must work to send a proven conservative leader like David Dewhurst to Washington, where he can put the Texas approach to work to overhaul Washington.
5. The Democratic Party Question
The pollsters weren’t right about the Democratic Senate primary, where retired San Antonio educator Grady Yarbrough, rather than Dallas lawyer Sean Hubbard, forced former state representative Paul Sadler of Houston into a runoff.
As blogger Lawrence Person noted, Yarbrough (no relation—nor spelling similarity—to former Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough) “has no website, no Facebook page, no Twitter feed. (I looked. Repeatedly….)”
He also spent no money, though the Tribune’s Batheja and Root reported that he just hasn’t filed any paperwork with the Federal Elections Commision yet.
“I spent money, you bet I have,” Yarbrough told them.
Sadler told the Tribune that he’d like for he and Yarbrough to join Cruz and Dewhurst for those five debates.
“I think the people of Texas deserve to hear from all four candidates in the runoff,” Sadler said. “I think they deserve to have the same media attention. I’ll accept his [Cruz’s] challenge right now, any place, any time anywhere.”