The race to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison in the U.S. Senate is now on the national stage, especially in the wake of Tuesday’s Indiana Republican primary, which saw Tea Party-favored candidate Richard Mourdock oust six-term incumbent Senator Richard Lugar.

“Is Texas Next?” read the headline on a story at the Weekly Standard by its always-infallible editor William Kristol, who wrote:

Where might Tea Party conservatism again rear its (ugly, to the establishment; fetching, to some of us) head?

Texas. Ted Cruz, an impressive young conservative lawyer—recently solicitor general of Texas, before that a Supreme Court law clerk—trails the incumbent lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, by about ten points in the latest polls in the race for the GOP nomination for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat. Cruz has (amazingly) raised almost as much money as Dewhurst (who is wealthy and can self-fund, however).

Kristol goes on to say Cruz “seems to have all the momentum,” and describes Dewhurst’s Chinese tire company attack ads as “desperate.” Kristol concludes:

A U.S. Senate with Ted Cruz (and Josh Mandel of Ohio) joining Marco Rubio and Kelly Ayotte, to mention only two members of the GOP class of 2010, will be a much improved Senate. A Senate with David Dewhurst will be more of the same. 

So after Indiana, for the next three weeks, conservative eyes will be on Texas.

As Aman Batheja of the Texas Tribune noted, the conservative, anti-government spending Club For Growth, which supported Mourdock and has already endorsed Cruz, is doing a $1 million ad buy, for spots that proclaim, “moderate tax-raising David Dewhurst. Wrong for Texas.”

And on the heels of his appearance with (and endorsement from) Ron Paul and Rand Paul in Austin last Sunday, Cruz has also earned the approval of Sarah Palin.

Katrina Pierson of the the Dallas Tea Party told blogger and radio broadcaster Scott Braddock that “the Palin endorsement reinforces the idea that this race has become a national rallying point for ‘movement conservatives.'”

The most recent poll about the race by North Carolina’s Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling was favorable to Cruz. Dewhurst led Cruz 38 percent to 26 percent but in January, that margin had been 36 percent to eighteen percent. With former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert and former ESPN broadcaster Craig James also in the race, those figures could force Dewhurst to face Cruz in a run-off.

However, as Robert T. Garrett of the Dallas Morning News reported, two newer polls from Dewhurst-aligned organizations were much stronger for the Lite Guv. The Texas Conservative Fund PAC put Dewhurst at 57 percent, with Cruz a very distant second at seventeen percent, while the Conservative Republicans of Texas had Dewhurst leading 51 percent to seventeen percent. 

“Their polls may be legit,” Garrett wrote “but it’s pretty obvious these groups very much want to create a bandwagon effect that could sweep up some casual Republican voters and help Dewhurst as he tries to avoid a runoff.”

Which is what the whole thing is all about.

“All bets are off if the race heads into a runoff,” wrote Kate Alexander of the Austin American-Statesman. If that happens to Dewhurst, “that’s where this becomes really dangerous,” Texas Tech political science professor Craig Goodman told Alexander.

But TEXAS MONTHLY‘s Paul Burka, who has never rated Cruz’s chances as very high against the well-funded, better-known Lieutenant Governor, believes that’s still the case, and that the Dewhurst-leaning polls might be exactly how the May 29 primary goes down: “The Indiana Senate race is not a proxy for the Texas Senate race. The Club for Growth, which says it is going to spend $1M against the Dew, is the fool that is soon going to be parted from its money.”