Tea Party favorite Cruz gains momentum ahead of Texas GOP Senate primary

Former Texas Solicitor General and Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz (R) has the momentum heading into the closing days of the GOP Senate primary runoff election and may have pulled ahead of Texas Lieutenant Gov. David Dewhurst (R).

Cruz started off the race unknown to most voters and trailed Dewhurst in the first round of voting by an 11-point margin but has had the wind at his back the entire race, fueled by Tea Party excitement about his campaign and big-dollar support from national conservative groups including the Club for Growth, Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) Senate Conservatives Fund and FreedomWorks.

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The groups poured millions of dollars into the state to help Cruz overcome Dewhurst’s financial edge, largely driven by the $11 million of his own money he spent on the race. The Club alone has spent more than $3 million in the runoff and more than $5 million total, the most it’s invested in any race this year.

In recent days he’s had a slew of conservative superstars come in to help his campaign. 

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and DeMint stumped with him at a Friday get out the vote rally in The Woodlands, a suburb outside of Houston.

In her address, Palin touted Cruz as an “American grizzly” who could shake up the “permanent political class” in Washington. She said he had “proven, common-sense, constitutional conservative, and he's a fighter, and he will bring new leadership to the United States Senate,” according to media reports.

On Saturday, Cruz will attend a rally in North Texas with former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Earlier in the week he spoke at the cavernous American Airlines Arena in Dallas at a rally hosted by the national Tea Party group FreedomWorks alongside Glenn Beck and Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), both of whom are backing him.

Dewhurst has had major support from his former running mate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) — many of his current staff are from Perry’s campaign team and Perry has been hitting the stump hard for Dewhurst in the past week. He’s also been endorsed by former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert (R), who finished third in the first round of voting with 13 percent. But that backing may not be enough heading into Tuesday’s election.

There have been no recent polls in the state, but ones from earlier this month showed good news for the Tea Party favorite.

In early July Dewhurst and Cruz released competing polls showing themselves with a high single-digit lead. The Democratic-affiliated Public Policy Polling, which doesn’t have a dog in the fight, had Cruz leading Dewhurst by 49 to 44 percent in a poll released around the same time. Citizens United, another outside group backing Cruz, also released a poll showing him with a lead in the high single digits.

The race has gotten nasty in its final days, and there is no love lost between the candidates. Dewhurst refused to say if he’d back Cruz in the general election if he won (the winner is a lock for the seat in the conservative state). 

While Cruz said he’d back Dewhurst if he won he ripped him for engaging in “nasty personal character attacks” rather than focusing on the issues and compared his tactics to President Obama’s, the ultimate insult in a GOP primary.

A super-PAC backing Dewhurst has run ads slamming Cruz for some of the clients he’s defended as an attorney. One ad attacked Cruz for working for a client who’d shipped jobs to “communist China.” Another, released this week, features the mother of a teen who committed suicide slamming Cruz for taking on as a client one of the people she blames for his death.

“Corrupt judges put my son in a for-profit juvenile detention center... to make millions of dollars," she says in the ad. "Ted Cruz says his client should not have to pay, that the IRS is the victim, and not the kids here. My son came out of there, and he took a gun and shot himself in the heart. That's what my son's life was worth, $500. Ted Cruz should be absolutely ashamed of himself. I don't know how he can sleep at night."

Cruz blasted the ad.

“Unfortunately my opponent has chosen to spend over $10 million of his vast personal fortune flooding the airwaves at nasty false personal attacks all challenging my character and integrity. The attacks are filled with falsehoods and as the election gets closer and drops in the polls the attacks are getting nastier and nastier. Our campaign has not responded in kind and we do not intend to.”

Both candidates say the results will come down to turnout, with each predicting victory. Cruz though sounds more confident in his fate, saying the campaign was going “extraordinarily.”

“At this stage 100 percent of our focus is on turnout,” Cruz said. “Runoffs are always about turnout and this runoff will be decided by the conservative grassroots, and the conservative grassroots is overwhelmingly supporting our campaign.”

Dewhurst pushed back against that idea.

“I think we have the advantage in the number of supporters but it comes down to turnout — we've got to get our voters turned out,” he said. “We're doing everything you can imagine.”

He also ripped the prominent conservatives flying in to help Cruz, as well as the outside groups which have ripped him as an establishment politician and a moderate.

“Mr. Cruz and his Washington special interests have been attacking my record. Sen. Jim DeMint, FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth — they're all wrong as hell… They don't know what they're talking about. They've never met me,” he said. 

“I called Jim DeMint on his cell phone out of the blue last summer and he agreed to meet me, urged me to come see him in a week or two and then abruptly changed his mind a day or two later and said they'd already made up their mind for Cruz. If he'd taken five minutes he'd find out I'm one of the two or three most conservative elected officials in the country.”

He got a bit testy when asked about Palin’s visit.

“No comment,” he said. “I'm focused on Texans. We're going to be barnstorming in Texas. Mr. Cruz can campaign with all the people he wants to from Alaska, South Carolina and Utah.”