The Texas Senate Race: Right, Righter and Rightest

The close Republican battle for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat has become a race for high profile (and low profile) endorsements.


Eileen Smith

What has happened between Rick Perry and Sarah Palin? They used to read each other’s minds, finish each other’s sentences, appear on stage together beaming like the prom king and queen. The one-time shooting star of the Republican Party proudly endorsed Perry in the last gubernatorial election, calling him the “true conservative” as opposed to that faux conservative Kay Bailey Hutchison who finally has the decency to vacate her Senate seat. But now the two soul mates find themselves on different sides of the Texas Republican primary race for Hutchison’s U.S. Senate seat, which begs the question, how well can anyone really know anyone?

Perry is backing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst while Palin has endorsed former state solicitor general and, more importantly, Tea Party Express darling Ted Cruz. (You know you’re a tea party darling when you’re endorsed by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, the designated Mad Hatter.) This week the Dewhurst campaign released a new ad featuring a strangely orange-faced Perry saying that “our country needs him and so does Texas.” For her part, Palin made a robocall calling Cruz “a conservative we can trust” who has “defended the Constitution and U.S. sovereignty.” Wow. Can Dewhurst say that? (Although some of Palin’s robocalls for Cruz evidently went to people in Kansas. Oops.)

Palin’s melodic voice is also featured in a new ad called “Fighter,” which starts with Cruz’s Cuban father being imprisoned by a “dictator.” (The ad is supposed to make you think Cruz’s father was some freedom fighter jailed by Castro. But that’s not actually the case. Cruz’s father was on Castro’s side and was imprisoned by the Batista government that Castro later overthrew. Details, details. The ad later credits Cruz with taking on the United Nations. So there’s that.)

And on Thursday, former senator and failed presidential candidate Rick Santorum announced his endorsement of Cruz on Glenn Beck’s radio show, calling him “spellbinding, a tremendous orator and principled.” (Cruz, not Beck.) If you’re keeping score Cruz has now secured two endorsements from failed presidential candidates—Santorum and Ron Paul. Dewhurst has been endorsed by Perry and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, but Huckabee’s so 2008. Does Santorum, the devout Catholic, realize that he’s endorsing a Southern Baptist, not to mention a candidate who, according to the Dewhurst campaign, wants to send every single American job to China?

When Cruz is not busy defending the Constitution, he’s being forced to defend himself against the Dewhurst campaign’s negative attack ads. An ad released in April suggests that Cruz helped put a U.S. company out of business by representing a Chinese firm that apparently stole some manufacturing blueprints. (Politifact rated the assertions “mostly true.”) Cruz complained about the “nasty, false attack ads trying to convince every Texan that I’m a red Chinese communist who wants to eat your children.”

In a profile of Cruz, The Texas Observer’s Anthony Zurcher writes that his Republican supporters view Cruz as the next Ronald Reagan, which is just as good, if not better, than being the next Jesus Christ. But, as Zurcher notes, Mr. Cruz has to actually win an election first. There’s the rub.

In the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, Dewhurst is leading the crowded primary, which includes former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert and ESPN analyst Craig James, with only 40 percent. If Dewhurst can’t win more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, which looks increasingly likely, he and (presumably) Cruz will face each other in a runoff in July. The conventional wisdom says Dewhurst could be in serious trouble if he finds himself in a runoff with Cruz.

No matter who wins, one of these guys will replace Hutchison, which means there will be one less kind-of-sometimes-semi-moderate member of the U.S. Senate. And that, in itself, is something for conservatives to celebrate.