Dewhurst gave his best performance of the campaign, but it may not matter.  He still has a tendency to be stiff and wooden. It’s almost painful to watch him struggle to achieve fluency. Cruz has a big edge as a speaker; he reeled off points, “One…two…three…four.” It was good debating technique, but the look on his face seems to say, “Look how smart I am.” Dewhurst made a slip when he said he was endorsed by the NRA, which Cruz promptly pounced on.

Dewhurst said, “I’m the most conservative lieutenant governor in the history of Texas.” I tried to think of who the competition might be. Rick Perry might be one answer, although Perry had little to show for his year as light gov, other than his sincere but unsuccessful efforts to reach a compromise on the hate crimes bill in 1999.

Cruz accused Dewhurst of impugning his patriotism with an ad that included the Chinese flag. “You’re better than that,” he said to Dewhurst.

Viewers were able to post comments alongside the video feed. Almost all of the comments were pro-Cruz; a few were anti-Dewhurst. Dewhurst made a strong pitch for his conservative record, and deservedly so, but Cruz is just so much more steeped in the rhetoric of the far right. I suspect a lot of people in the audience–the debate was sponsored by the King Street Patriots, a tea party organization–were  thinking, “He’s one of us, and Dewhurst isn’t.” And it’s true. He’s not.

Cruz scored heavily when he brought up Dewhurst’s support for amnesty in 2007, in a speech that, Cruz charged, Dewhurst caused to be removed from his Web site. Dewhurst denied that he had ever supported amnesty or a guest worker program. Cruz also attacked Dewhurst for spending $10 million “flooding the airwaves with false personal attacks.”

For the most part, however, Cruz and Dewhurst had few disagreements on policy. Cruz brought up Dewhurst’s statement in the previous debate that Europe had better healthcare outcomes than the U.S. Dewhurst tried again and again to return to his record (“I  balanced five straight budgets”) and his passage of Voter I.D. and tort reform, but his efforts fell flat. Cruz has no record at all, other than his law practice, but that doesn’t matter to his supporters.

The truth is that, if elected to the Senate, Cruz and Dewhurst would vote alike 99% of the time. They would likely differ on only one vote that would matter, and that is the vote for Republican whip. Jim DeMint, of South Carolina, is seeking the position, and so is John Cornyn of Texas.* You would think that a senator from Texas would support a colleague from his home state, but DeMint got Cruz into the race and helped fund him. The odds are overwhelming that Cruz will vote for DeMint, perhaps casting the deciding vote that would rob Texas’s soon-to-be senior senator from achieving the number two position in the Republican hierarchy.

If Cruz wins the race, the Dewhurst campaign will go down in Texas political history as one of the worst that has ever been run–and one of the biggest upsets since Rick Perry defeated Jim Hightower in 1990. Dewhurst had every advantage–name I.D., money, conservative record, Rick Perry’s endorsement (if that’s an advantagte. Cruz had nothing except the ability to connect with the far right. But based on where the energy is in the Republican party, that may be all Cruz needs.

UPDATE: Earlier today, TEXAS MONTHLY received the following email from DeMint’s Senate office:

Senator DeMint has not sought and does not plan to seek a Senate leadership post and reports to the contrary are simply false. Please correct this story. Thank you.

Senator DeMint is in line to become chairman of the Commerce Committee, a powerful panel, assuming that Republicans honor his seniority. He has also expressed a desire to be a member of the Finance Committee. As for Cornyn, I also came across a reference to him in a story from Roll Call, which described Cornyn’s support from his colleagues as “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

I see nothing wrong with raising the issue of how Cruz will vote for Republican whip. This ought to be an easy vote for a Texas senator. If Cornyn is elected whip, he would be next in line to succeed Mitch McConnell as majority leader. The last Texan to hold that position was Lyndon Johnson. While many readers may scoff at “politics as usual” involving one’s home state, Texas sends a huge amount of tax dollars to Washington. Getting something back is important. Money for highways and the huge military installations at Fort Hood and Fort Bliss are crucial to this state. Whether DeMint runs for whip or not, Texas  needs a senator who will protect the state’s interests.