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Apparently the mainstream media’s efforts to portray the Tea Party as irrelevant have fallen on deaf ears in Texas. A Tuesday night runoff between establishment Republican candidate Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and lawyer Ted Cruz was no contest. Tea Party favorite Cruz romped to a 13-point victory, and will represent the GOP for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican incumbent Kay Bailey Hutchison. “This is a victory for the grassroots,” Cruz told his supporters at the J.W. Marriot Hotel in Houston. “We should take it as a providential sign that today would be the 100th birthday of Milton Friedman.”
At one point in the campaign, Cruz was considered a long shot to beat Dewhurst, who had the backing of most elected state Republicans, including Governor Rick Perry. Despite his own dalliance with the Tea Party, Perry opted to back Dewhurst, offering the candidate his support, and part of his political apparatus as well, including consultant David Carney. The governor “is now the big loser,” wrote Paul Burka, longtime political analyst at Texas Monthly. “I think his political career may be over.”
Burka may not be exaggerating. A Public Polling Policy (PPP) piece entitled “Tonight’s Second Biggest Loser” noted that “two times more Texas Republicans considered an endorsement from Rick Perry to be a negative than a positive. 35% said they were less likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by Perry, 15% said they were more likely to, and 50% said they didn’t care either way. PPP further contended that “Perry’s standing has been significantly diminished in Texas after his failed White House bid and that he could be in serious trouble if he tries for another term in 2014,” with 29 percent of voters thinking he should pursue another term as Governor and 64 percent saying he should not.
Yet Perry aside, Cruz’s victory represented a stunning turnaround in the space of two months. In May, Dewhurst had a commanding 46-29 lead over Cruz, with three other candidates picking up the other 20 percent of the vote total, and the remaining 5 percent undecided. Head to head, Dewhurst’s lead was even greater at 59-34. Unfortunately the three additional candidates in the race made a critical difference: they prevented Dewhurst from picking up the 50 percent total in the first round of primaries that would have made a runoff with Cruz unnecessary.
But in a campaign described as bare-knuckles brawl, Cruz began to steadily gain on Dewhurst aided by a host of conservatives, including former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), as well as national conservative groups such as the Club for Growth, which contributed $5.5 million to Cruz’s campaign, and FreedomWorks, a Tea Party SuperPac. Freedom Works claimed Cruz’s victory signals that their particular brand of conservatism–highlighted by a desire to shrink the size of government, re-introduce fiscal integrity in congressional budget-making and re-invigorate constitutional principles–is gaining acceptance. “When Ted gets to Washington, he’s going to be seen correctly as a giant-killer,” said Sal Russo, co-founder and chief strategist of Tea Party Express, the nation’s largest Tea Party political action committee. “The big thing that I think this demonstrates is that the Tea Party is far from gone–it’s truly alive and well,” he added.
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