Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Texas U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Texas U.S. Senate

September 5, 2012
62 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2008 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Likely Republican

It is only a lack of recent general election polling that is likely preventing me from classifying this race as "Safe Republican" at this time. Thus, I am being overly cautious.  The fact though is that not a single Democrat has won a statewide race in the Lone Star State since 1994 and not a single non-incumbent since 1990. While the road to the general election has been interesting, and the current GOP nominee is a somewhat unconventional choice, he is still likely to receive the most total votes of any Republican candidate in the country this year, outside of the Presidential ticket.

This is a race that has really been a long time coming. Way back in late 2007, GOP Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison said she would not seek another term when her seat came up in 2012, and instead would focus on a run for the Governorship of Texas in 2010. She even said she was likely to leave her seat well before the 2012 elections in order to return to Texas to campaign. That move would have allowed the Republican Governor of Texas Rick Perry, to appoint an interim Senator, and then a special election would have had to be held. Soon, several prominent Republicans in the state looked at the opportunity to run for the Senate in a special election and started organizing campaigns.

As for the still unfolding 2010 Gubernatorial race, Perry surprised many, including Hutchison likely by announcing he would seek another term in that office. Once considered unpopular in the state GOP and an underdog against Hutchison, Perry would go on to successfully reach out to conservatives, and running to her right, easily beat the Senator in the primary for his job, which in Texas was basically paramount to a general election win.

In the meantime, Hutchison had kept delaying her previously stated plans to resign from the Senate. This led to much confusion and angst in the state among the candidates who were looking to replace her. Eventually, she would go on to say she would not quit until after the March 2010 Gubernatorial primary, but then would leave Washington one way or another. Of course, that sort of defeated her purpose for wanting to resign before the primary anyway. After her loss to Perry, in a move that probably was not shocking, Hutchison announced she would serve out the remainder of her term. Suddenly, a special election was not to be.

At that time, many thought that Hutchison would even decide to run again in 2012, but early in 2011 she did announce her intention to retire at the end of her current term. Her seat would be open after all! When that became clear, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst entered the race, who had the support of Perry and many other influential GOP figures in Texas. He was considered a heavy favorite to win the nomination and go to Washington. Accordingly, many of the Republicans who had long ago established campaign committees in anticipation of a 2010 special election for the Senate seat started looking at other races and transferred. A couple other major Republican candidates would enter, but Dewhurst was clearly the person at the top of the heap.

Throughout the year though, more of a buzz started to gather around Ted Cruz, an attorney who had never sought public office before (not a typical path to power for Texas politicos in big races), but someone who had been the state's Solicitor General. More than a generation younger than Dewhurst, Cruz, a Canadian born son of a Cuban refugee, positioned himself as more conservative and more of an insurgent outsider to Dewhurst, and he began to receive a good deal of Tea Party support, as well as national attention, including glowing profiles in publications such as the National Review.

The GOP field also included the Mayor of Dallas, who was positioning himself as the most moderate candidate in the field, as well as a former college football star in the state. By the time of the primary in late May, it was assumed that Dewhurst would easily finish first, and the only question was if Cruz had surged enough in the final weeks to hold the Lt. Governor to under 50 percent and force a lengthy runoff campaign that would be decided at the end of July. Already, the primary had turned pretty nasty in a variety of areas, and it seemed like it would be pretty difficult to easily smooth over  intraparty hurt feelings, although Texas Republicans clearly had a large edge over Democrats anyway.

Dewhurst took the first round of voting with just under 45 percent, with Cruz running about 11 points behind. This was a closer outcome than many expected, but still, Dewhurst was considered a heavy favorite to win the runoff and some might have hoped for Cruz to see the writing on the wall and step aside in favor of Dewhurt's perceived inevitability and in the name of party unity. For one thing, the more moderate third place finisher was expected to see most of his support go towards Dewhurt, but Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert had been angered by some aspects of Dewhurt's campaign and did not endorse him until very late in the runoff process.

All the while, Dewhurt and Cruz continued to go after each other, as both piled up impressive endorsements, while attacking each other. Gradually, the sense of momentum shifting towards Cruz began to take hold, especially with the anticipation that a lower turnout, more conservative dominated runoff election could be beneficial to him. Some felt that Dewhurt and his SuperPac crossed some lines in their attack ads against Cruz, tying him to illegal immigration advocates, Chinese companies, a teen's suicide and various other things that seemed to be a stretch. It is likely that this helped contribute to a significant backlash against the once heavily favored Dewhurst.

The candidates released dueling poll results regarding the runoff and some expected it to be quite close, but Cruz had clearly dominated that entire portion of the campaign and would go on to formally capture the nomination by more than 14 points. A disappointed Dewhurst would have no choice but to announce his support for Cruz in the general election, but he had to also realize the stunning fashion in which he failed to win a nomination that had been his for the taking. Ted Cruz, a favorite of many in the Tea Party, was the official GOP nominee, and while he would be merely holding a current Republican seat if victorious, many on the right remarked on how much more conservative he would be than the departing Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Of course, Democrats have to be mentioned in discussing this race. Back when a special election looked probable in 2010, when Democrats were feeling confident nationwide, a couple strong candidates looked poised to enter the race, but as the waiting for Hutchison's resignation dragged on, the leading one decided to run for Governor instead, and he wound up losing to Perry that year. By the time it was clear that it would be simply a traditional 2012 open race, no Democrat who was considered capable of winning was in the race.

The Democrats' primary in May produced a bit of a surprise as frontrunner Paul Sadler, a former State Representative, received just 35 percent of the vote. Advancing to a runoff with 26 percent was Grady Yarbrough, a retired 75 year old teacher who had run for office on several previous occasions. Yarbrough, who is African-American, happened to have a famous last name from years of Texas Democrat yore, and that probably helped him get a lot of votes, despite not really having the capacity to do much campaigning statewide. Suddenly, Democrats became concerned that Yarbrough could become the nominee, making a difficult situation for the party even worse. They quickly worked to bolster Sadler, who easily won the runoff and advanced to face Cruz.

Some die-hard Democrat partisans would go on to say that Sadler had the type of moderate image that could help him win over disaffected Republicans who felt that Cruz was too far to the right in an open seat. race. It would be interesting to see if there was any polling data that could back that up, but I doubt it. Despite the messy nature of the GOP nomination process, Cruz has an immense financial and organizational edge in a statewide Texas race, over the still little known Sadler or any other Democrat. The fact that he is Hispanic (despite the fact that Texas does not have a lot of Cuban-Americans) can only help as well in a state with such a growing Latino population.

Republicans across the country who watched last week's GOP national convention were introduced by Cruz, who gave a very impressive presentation on state, without the use of a podium or teleprompter. He is clearly conservative, but seems to be the type of person who is planning to go to Washington to be a player and not just a bomb thrower. His speech to the convention indicated that he is a person of tremendous intellect and substance. Watching him speak at length for the first time, it was clear to me that Ted Cruz was a great lawyer, and he is likely to be a very impressive figure starting next year in the nation's capital as well, both as an elected official of his large state, and for the cause of conservatism and the GOP nationally as well.

Cruz campaign link:

2012 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 15 D, 11 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 45 D, 48 R