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The Cruz Factor

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published

There is debate going on among analysts and political pundits over how big Ted Cruz’s victory over rival David Dewhurst was. Is it really as newsworthy as the media has been treating it since July 31st, or are people making a bigger deal than they should?

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus announced on Twitter Wednesday morning that Cruz will join a few other “rising stars” in the GOP as speakers at the party’s National Convention. Party leaders must believe that Ted Cruz has something to offer.

In Texas, Cruz’s victory was huge. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst was the establishment candidate. The moment Dewhurst entered the race he was supposed to win. He had the statewide influence. He also had the money. Dewhurst ended up outspending Ted Cruz 3-to-1 and spent close to $20 million of his own personal wealth on the campaign.

Despite his political and financial advantages, he was not able to secure over 50% of the vote in the May 29th GOP Primary. However, he was still the odds-on favorite to win the runoff election against Ted Cruz. He had a double digit lead over his opponent and it was Dewhurst’s nomination to lose more than it was Cruz’s to win.

The runoff election quickly became Tea Party vs. GOP Establishment as the Tea Party likes. It became big money vs. Texas grassroots.

The two biggest factors that cost David Dewhurst the nomination: Millions spent on negative ads that flooded major media markets across Texas and a severe lack of enthusiasm in his campaign and from his supporters.

Public Policy Polling published results on July 12, 2012 for a poll that measured the state of the Texas Senate race to that point. From the May primary to early July, Ted Cruz managed to close a huge gap and take a five point lead in the polls. Of those surveyed, 59% said they were “very excited” about Cruz. That is compared to the 36% that said they were “very excited” about Dewhurst.

As the race continued, enthusiasm for Dewhurst continued to drop while Cruz’s numbers remained high.

Total voter turnout for the Texas primaries in May was 14.84% according to the office of Texas’ Secretary of State. Around 11% of the total number of registered voters in the state cast their ballot in the

GOP primary. 8.5% of registered voters participated in the GOP runoff. That was higher than some analysts expected.

The key to winning the runoff was grassroots excitement. Cruz had it. Dewhurst did not. Voter turnout was abysmal to say the least so it all came down to which campaign could get out the vote best. Statewide polls released just before July 31st showed Cruz up as much as ten points. Anonymous allies to the Dewhurst campaign Politico their candidate was finished and he was.

The implications of Ted Cruz’s victory over David Dewhurst will expand beyond who will take Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat in the U.S. Senate. To some degree, the results of the Texas Senate race will affect the 2013 Texas legislative session. David Dewhurst will lose a substantial amount of influence next year.

Cruz was the Tea Party favorite. He received endorsements from influential conservatives like Sarah Palin (R-AK) and Jim DeMint (R-SC). He had conservative activists all over the country contributing to his campaign. The Senate race gave him a significant amount of name recognition on the national stage so the fact senior GOP officials want someone like Cruz to speak at the party’s convention comes at no surprise.

Reasons why Ted Cruz is important to the GOP on a national scale:

  • At 41, Cruz is young by Capitol Hill standards. If Cruz does, indeed, win in November he will be one of the youngest senators when he takes the oath of office at 42. Younger elected officials can appeal to younger voters.
  • He is very smart and extremely likable.
  • He can attract voters from a variety of demographics, including constituents in a growing Hispanic electorate. It is a voting bloc the GOP needs to find a way to appeal to since the party’s platform on immigration and other key issues turn a majority of Hispanic voters to the Democratic Party.
  • He is well liked among independent conservative voters and activists. The Tea Party is a voting bloc that wasn’t around in 2008, proved to be a force to be reckoned with in 2010, and is flexing its muscles this year. Despite
  • He can help get the grassroots base excited. High level of enthusiasm was something the GOP lacked in 2008 and the Democrats had. There was very little chance the presidential election in 2008 was going to go to the GOP.

Republican leaders know they have an opportunity to do something that is still statistically not in their favor to accomplish, and that is beat an incumbent President. Democrats are nowhere near as thrilled about their candidate as they were four years ago. President Obama is still in the favorable position, but he is vulnerable.

The GOP needs a high level of enthusiasm, which is something Mitt Romney can’t provide. He cannot get voters excited and chances are he will pick a VP candidate that won’t be able to either.

Senior GOP officials have been put in a position where they have to cater to the Tea Party movement that has worked tirelessly to remove establishment Republicans from office. They know they need this voting bloc and they need them to be excited about voting for Mitt Romney.

Ted Cruz has pledged his support to get Romney elected. He said that conservatives and Tea Party activists will overwhelmingly vote for the presumptive GOP nominee and he is correct, but many of them will not be voting for Mitt Romney. They will be voting to defeat Barack Obama.

Either way, excitement is not going to come from the candidates. It will have to come from voices that can rouse a crowd and appeal to grassroots activists. The RNC is looking to “rising stars” in the party to do that. GOP officials have confirmed that Ted Cruz has a premiere slot at the Republican National Convention.

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