With just days until the May 29 Texas Republican primary for U.S. Senate, former state solicitor general Ted Cruz is focused on one thing: denying his opponent, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, the 50 percent share of the vote needed to win the GOP nomination outright. "Politically, the only thing that matters is, does this race go to a runoff?," Cruz says in an interview with THE WEEKLY STANDARD.
But a new poll shows Dewhurst may be growing his lead and getting close to avoiding the runoff. In the survey, PPP found that 46 percent of likely primary voters support Dewhurst, compared to 29 percent for Cruz. A third candidate, former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert, registered 15 percent support.
If Dewhurst can snag some of the 5 percent that remain undecided and depress the vote for Leppert (the Dewhurst camp recently launched LiberalTomLeppert.com to do just that), it may be enough to put him over the 50 percent threshold.
But if the PPP poll is accurate, there's a silver lining for Cruz. PPP's Tom Jensen writes:
49% of Cruz's voters are 'very excited' about casting their ballots on Tuesday, while only 27% of Dewhurst's are. With voters who are 'very excited' about turning out, Cruz actually has a 42-37 advantage. That pro-Cruz enthusiasm gap won't be enough to put him in first place on Tuesday but if he does force a runoff it could give him a fighting chance in a low turnout election further down the line.
Cruz sees the same edge for himself in the July 31 runoff election.
"Turnout will drop significantly," Cruz says. "The only voters who will show up in a runoff are the hardcore, committed voters, the informed primary voters. And we’ve got a double digit lead with informed primary voters."
For the past few weeks, Cruz looked to be on track to make it to the runoff. A recent poll showed him trailing Dewhurst by just nine points, 40 percent to 31 percent. And on May 10, Cruz got the endorsement of Sarah Palin, who also endorsed recent GOP Senate primary winners Richard Mourdock of Indiana and Deb Fischer of Nebraska. "The impact of that endorsement was electric. Our phones literally lit up like a Christmas tree," Cruz says.
But Dewhurst may be getting mileage from his own high-profile endorser, popular governor Rick Perry, and a series of ads highlighting the work Cruz's law firm did on behalf of a Chinese company. Cruz calls these ads "false" and "deceptive" and says Dewhurst is mimicking President Obama by "distracting" from the real issues.
As for the Perry endorsement, Cruz sounds unfazed. "It is not surprising that the Texas political establishment is circling the wagons around David Dewhurst," he says. Cruz's final pitch to Texas Republicans, accompanied by a television ad highlighting his immigrant heritage, is that he's a "conservative with backbone" and a "fighter."
"Do we have a senator from Texas who is a go-along-to-get-along establishment politician," Cruz says, "or do we have a strong conservative and a fighter who will stand up and lead the fight?"