Tuesday's Texas primary still has drama


Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) speaks at the National Rifle Association convention in St. Louis on April 13. (Michael Conroy/AP)

True, we gave the nation the last two Republican presidents, Bush 41 and former governor Bush 43.

And it’s true that we sent the nation two more presidential aspirants this year. You sent Gov. Rick Perry right back home, of course, but we expect to see Ron Paul during the Republican National Convention since he’s hanging onto his presidential delegates.

Meanwhile, what you may not know is that even in Texas, the status quo is now considered by some Republicans to be just a tad too far left.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the GOP primary for retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat. Even though Perry ran his presidential race as an outsider to Washington politics, he is Texas’ longest serving governor. Under those circumstances, it’s hard to argue that he’s not part of the state’s political establishment. Thus, will his endorsement help Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the crowded field for the Senate seat? It’s an open question.

Dewhurst’s main rival for the top ballot spot, former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz, is casting himself as the true conservative. Cruz has been endorsed by Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Rand Paul, and Jim DeMint. But how much credit would they deserve if Cruz is able to force Dewhurst into a July runoff?

There’s plenty to suggest that conservative tea party members have been building a strong ground operation in North Texas, long before the big-name endorsements were made.

TP faithful are actively working on behalf of down-ballot candidates, and they have a visible presence in conservative Collin County, north of Dallas, and in Fort Worth. And they clearly favor Cruz.  

Despite all the support Cruz’s garnered from the Tea Party, the Wall Street Journal insisted recently that “Ted Cruz’s Problem’’ is that he’s a bit full of himself.

Braggadocio has never been much of a political liability, especially in Texas, so that seems like the least of Cruz’s worries.

A bigger threat probably comes from other candidates who also claim to be the true conservative in the race, including former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert and former ESPN analyst and SMU football star Craig James.

Issues and negative TV ads have had a role in the campaign. But probably just as decisive is the timing of the primary at the end of a long holiday weekend. Early voting was heavy, as a result, but who will turn out on Election Day – the old-line party faithful or the tea-party inspired true believers – remains to be seen.

Perhaps the only clear winner on Tuesday will be Mitt Romney, who is expected to clinch enough delegates in Texas to lay claim to the GOP presidential nomination. If nothing else, that's an ironic twist for Perry, who probably never envisioned that his home turf would propel a rival in the presidential contest this year. 

Lori Stahl covers politics in Texas. You can follow her on Twitter @LoriStahl.

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