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Is Ted Cruz the next Marco Rubio?

at 12:04 PM ET, 05/30/2012

He’s a Cuban-American, tea-party backed upstart taking on a establishment-backed Republican Senate candidate.

Is Ted Cruz the next Marco Rubio?

“This is a showdown between a conservative fighter and an establishment moderate, so there are certainly similarities,” said Cruz campaign manager John Drogin.


U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz (R) greets supporters at The Tea Party Express rally in Austin on May 6. (Jay Janner - AP/Austin American-Statesman)

The former solicitor general forced Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst into a runoff in Tuesday, keeping the frontrunner just below the 50 percent he needed to win outright. The two will face off in a July 31 runoff.

Like Rubio, who won his Florida Senate seat in 2010, Cruz has the support of a number of conservative heavyweights up to and including former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, and the Club for Growth.

Born Rafael Edward Cruz, the candidate is son of a teenage refu­gee who fled from Cuba to Austin, Texas with $100 sewn into his underwear. Like Rubio, Cruz brings up his father’s story regularly in speeches.

Unlike Rubio, who has misremembered some facts in his personal history, Cruz has made clear that his father was fleeing right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista and left the country before Fidel Castro took power. “He was a guerilla, throwing Molotov cocktails and blowing up buildings,” Cruz has said. “They didn't know Castro was a Communist, what they knew was that Batista was a cruel and oppressive dictator.”

Cruz graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law School, where he served on the law review; he clerked for former Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. He was a founding editor of the Harvard Latino Law Review. He was the first Hispanic solicitor general in Texas and the youngest solicitor general in the country.

“You have a young guy who looks like the future, who talks about the future, and has a motivated base,” said Texas Republican strategist Jordan Berry.

The comparison between Cruz and Rubio is imperfect largely due to the nature of the candidate Cruz is facing

Unlike then-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Dewhurst retains significant support. Crist was losing his own establishment friends even before he decided to run as an independent; former governor Jeb Bush’s sons held a fundraiser for Rubio in 2009.

Dewhurst has not broken with his party in major ways, as Crist did. A Rice University study found that the lieutenant governor is about as conservative as two-thirds of the Republican state Senate delegation. (One-third of GOP state senators are more conservative, a fact Cruz highlighted.)

“This is a race between a Texas conservative businessman, David Dewhurst, and a lawyer who’s been funded by D.C. special interests, who has no record,” said Dewhurst spokesman Matt Hirsch.

Cruz also lags behind Dewhurst in polls. Dewhurst was forced into a runoff, but he still beat Cruz 45 percent to 34 percent. A recent poll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling had Dewhurst beating Cruz 59 to 34 percent in a runoff. Supporters of former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert, who placed third in the primary, overwhelmingly break for Dewhurst in the poll although it remains to be seen how it will all play out now that the runoff is a reality.

Cruz’s campaign argues that runoff turnout, which is likely to be low in the dead of a Texas summer, will be good for them.

The grassroots upstart also has to win over some skeptics. A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed called Cruz “aloof” and suggested “he’d do well to talk less about himself.”

Cruz could very well upset Dewhurst as Rubio drove Crist from the primary and the party. But his victory likely won’t be as easily won.

 
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