De­spite 2 GOP front-run­ners, Texas Se­nate race still wide open

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID ELDRIDGE

With two Repub­li­can con­tenders for the 2012 Se­nate race in Texas drop­ping out re­cently to run in­stead for a House seat, con­ven­tional wis­dom has the GOP con­test shap­ing up as a two-man show­down be­tween the “es­tab­lish­ment” can­di­date, Lt. Gov. David De­whurst, and the tea party in­sur­gent, for­mer So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral Ted Cruz.

But party in­sid­ers and po­lit­i­cal ob­servers in the state say that as­sess­ment is pre­ma­ture.

Mr. De­whurst of­fi­cially hasn’t de­clared for the race, and Mr. Cruz may still have se­ri­ous chal­lengers for the tea party man­tle, de­spite the de­par­tures of Fort Worth auto dealer Roger Wil­liams and for­mer Rail­road Com­mis­sioner Michael Wil­liams, an­other tea party fa­vorite.

Both men set their sights in­stead on the new District 33 con­gres­sional seat in the Fort Worth area, one of four new dis­tricts added in Texas as a re­sult of the 2010 cen­sus.

Mr. Cruz, the Har­vard-ed­u­cated son of a Cuban-Texan, has been at the top of early fundrais­ing to­tals and picked up a slew of high-pro­file en­dorse­ments in re­cent weeks, gen­er­at­ing na­tional buzz as a Texas ver­sion of Florida’s Sen. Marco Ru­bio.

But a po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal ri­val re­leased a pri­vately com­mis­sioned poll last month that showed Mr. Cruz garner­ing just 2 per­cent sup­port from Repub­li­can vot­ers in a still­crowded field of po­ten­tial and an­nounced can­di­dates.

The poll showed state Sen. Dan Pa­trick, a Repub­li­can talk show host from Hous­ton who emerged as a conser va­tive cham­pion in the just-fin­ished session of the Texas Leg­is­la­ture, top­ping the field with 19 per­cent.

Mr. Pa­trick, who has also been con­sid­er­ing a run for the seat be­ing va­cated by Sen. Kay Bai­ley Hutchi­son, in­sists that, if he runs, he, not Mr. Cruz or Mr. De­whurst, would be the choice of con­ser­va­tives in the state.

“This poll con­firms that I would be the conser va­tive front-run­ner if I an­nounce,” he said in a state­ment ac­com­pa­ny­ing the re­lease of the poll.

Mr. De­whurst, ac­knowl­edged as the ar­chi­tect of the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Texas Leg­is­la­ture’s ef­forts this year to close a $15 bil­lion bud­get short­fall with­out rais­ing taxes, hasn’t de­clared his can­di­dacy ei­ther. But he sent his strong­est sig­nal yet June 28 in an email to sup­port­ers promis­ing “ex­cit­ing news” July 18.

Mr. De­whurst, a mul­ti­mil­lion­aire who could self-fi­nance at least part of what is ex­pected to be a $15 mil­lion to $20 mil­lion cam­paign, has long been con­sid­ered the Repub­li­can Party fa­vorite to re­place Mrs. Hutchi­son. But Texas in­sid­ers say it’s a mis­take to un­der­es­ti­mate Mr. Pa­trick.

“It’s much too early to be think­ing of this in terms of a twoman race,” said Michael Quinn Sullivan of the Em­power Tex­ans group, a con­ser­va­tive Austin think-tank that grades lawmakers on fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity.

On the group’s 2011 re­port cards, is­sued June 29, Mr. Pa­trick earned an A-plus, one of only three handed out among the 32 sen­a­tors. “If he gets in, he will be a le­git­i­mate can­di­date,” Mr. Sullivan told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Cruz spokesman John Drogin said Mr. Cruz, who has been rack­ing up en­dorse­ments from the likes of Club for Growth, Free­domWorks and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, is fo­cused on his cam­paign, not com­peti­tors.

“We know it’s early and it’s a wide-open race,” Mr. Drogin said.

But the Cruz cam­paign has mo­men­tum, he said, and the right mes­sage on state’s rights and fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Mr. Pa­trick, Mr. De­whurst and Mr. Cruz can each claim tea party bona fides, Mr. Sullivan said, and a fierce fight for the hearts of the party’s most con­ser­va­tive vot­ers could open the door for the big­gest-name GOP mod­er­ate in the race, for­mer Dal­las Mayor Tom Lep­pert. And Rail­road Com­mis­sioner El­iz­a­beth Ames Jones is still in the race, though she has yet to make much noise with her cam­paign or her fundrais­ing.

Who­ever emerges from the GOP pri­mary likely will face re­tired Lt. Gen. Ri­cardo Sanchez, 57, a Rio Grande Val­ley na­tive who is seek­ing the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion.

Mr. Sanchez, who com­manded coali­tion ground forces in the early days of the Iraq war, has been a critic of Repub­li­cans since step­ping down in the wake of the 2004 Abu Ghraib pris­oner-abuse scan­dal.

Tea Man: Ted Cruz

Party Man: David De­whurst

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