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Analyzing Cruz’s Texas Victory and the 2012 Senate Landscape

August 1, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
In a primary runoff, former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz captured the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat. And he isn't the only Tea Party candidate winning primaries. Judy Woodruff talks to Texas Tribune's Ross Ramsey and Rothenberg Political Report's Nathan Gonzales on the Tea Party faction in the 2012 elections.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Tea Party had a new champion today, and Texas Republicans had their nominee for the U.S. Senate. The results in Tuesday’s runoff sent a shockwave through Republican ranks nationwide.

TED CRUZ (R-Tex.): When we started, they said this was impossible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But last night, former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz captured the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.

TED CRUZ: And you know what? They were right. I couldn’t do it, but you could.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Cruz trounced Texas Lieutenant Governor of nine years David Dewhurst by 13 points. He did it with the backing of such Tea Party favorites as Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum, and with a fiery brand of conservative populism.

TED CRUZ: Tonight is a victory for the grassroots.


TED CRUZ: It is a testament to Republican women, to Tea Party leaders and to grassroots conservatives.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Dewhurst had been the Republican establishment favorite, with the backing of Governor Rick Perry and other party leaders. He finished first in the May primary, but failed to avoid a runoff, and then faded badly.

LT. GOV. DAVID DEWHURST (R-Tex.): I just got off the phone with Ted Cruz, and I offered him my congratulations and his supporters on a hard-fought victory and my support.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The 41-year-old Cruz is making his first bid for elected office. He’s a one-time Ivy League debating champion, whose father left Cuba during the Castro revolution. Now the son has scored the latest in a string of Tea Party triumphs in U.S. Senate primaries this year.

In Indiana, longtime Sen. Richard Lugar lost to Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock in May’s Republican primary. And in Nebraska, Deb Fischer beat the state’s attorney general for the Republican Senate nomination there. They have become major factors in a year when Senate races in at least eight states are considered tossups, and Republicans are bidding to win control of the Senate.

In Texas, Cruz is favored to win in November, and succeed retiring Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The Lone Star State has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1988.

So, how did Ted Cruz do it? And what does his win mean for the Tea Party, the GOP and the overall Senate landscape this fall?

We turn to Ross Ramsey of The Texas Tribune and to Nathan Gonzales of The Rothenberg Political Report. He is also a contributor to Roll Call.

Gentlemen, thank you both for being with us.

ROSS RAMSEY, The Texas Tribune: You bet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Ross Ramsey, let me start with you. How did Ted Cruz go from, what was he, 10 points behind in the primary at the end of May to 13 points ahead yesterday?

ROSS RAMSEY: Well, David Dewhurst never moved after the primary. And Ted Cruz pressed his case. He had strong grassroots support.

He had enthusiastic people with him. And they just swept this thing. In a runoff, you get a very small electorate. And the active people in his electorate were enough to win the day.

JUDY WOODRUFF: When you say small electorate, how small was the turnout?

ROSS RAMSEY: It only took about 600,000 people to win the election. There were 1.1 million voters in the Republican primary. That’s in a state where we have 18 million voting-age adults.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, tell us what the voters were voting for when they voted for Cruz. What do you know from polling and from talking to voters? What did they see in Ted Cruz?

ROSS RAMSEY: Well, I think a lot of it was they saw somebody who was receptive.

They were — Dewhurst is a classic establishment candidate and for the first part of this campaign ran kind of a ‘rose garden’ strategy, while Cruz and the other candidates trying to gain some traction were trying to goad him into forums and debates and that sort of thing.

I guess he kind of got the grassroots people stirred up with those. He convinced them that Dewhurst wasn’t listening to them, that he was ignoring them by not going to the debates. By the time they got to the runoff and Dewhurst started going to debates and things, it was too late. The public was already with — the populist thing with Cruz had already taken off.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how much difference in their positions on the issues, how much distance between these two men?

ROSS RAMSEY: Well, there wasn’t a lot.

This gets analyzed as Tea Party race. If it was a straight Tea Party race, you would have expected a bunch of issues differences. In fact, they had a debate at one point. And I was one of the questioners and asked how a Senator Cruz would be different from a Senator Dewhurst. And they didn’t really come up with much of substance.

If it was sort of the classic sort of Tea Party race that we have seen before in Texas, Rick Perry might have been on the other side. He has sort of taken that side in most races. He stuck with David Dewhurst in this thing. And the Cruz voters seemed to be just voting against the establishment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Nathan Gonzales, from the prospective of somebody who is looking at Senate races across the country, how does this win in Texas look to you?

NATHAN GONZALES, The Rothenberg Political Report: Well, I think Ross brings up a great point, that it’s important to make a distinction between an ideological primary and an establishment versus anti-establishment primary, which I think is what happened seeing in Texas.

What we’re seeing in Texas and elsewhere is a public primary electorate that doesn’t want smaller government or even good government. They want no government. And so in the past, we have seen these politicians who thrive on experience, longevity, statesmanship. Those have gone from a valued asset to a liability. And that’s something that David Dewhurst couldn’t overcome.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So being lieutenant governor for nine years, whatever other experience he had, you’re saying, worked against him.


He couldn’t talk about good things he may have done to reform government or within government because these primary voters, they don’t want government involved in their life at all.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So when folks look at this and they ask what does this say about the Tea Party, how do you answer that?

NATHAN GONZALES: Well, I think this is a Tea Party victory.

And I think this is different from smaller state like when they defeated Bob Bennett in Utah two years ago. This is a large state, very expensive. And they got their preferred candidate. But it’s not just a Tea Party conservative ideological. It is this anti-establishment, and it all came together for Ted Cruz.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ross Ramsey, does that sound like what you’re hearing there? And when Nathan Gonzales refers to people wanting not just small government, but no government, what were you hearing about that from the voters?

ROSS RAMSEY: Well, we’re kind of — Texas is in a place now where the Republican Party is sort of — it’s like a one-party state and the two parties are in the Republican Party.

And the establishment, sort of the organizational candidates, have had a hard time. But the Tea Party candidates, they were kind of on both sides. So some Tea Party candidates lost, some won. But, in any case, where you could identify kind of an establishment character and a non-establishment character, the non-establishment character won.

I think this small electorate and the combination of that, a summer election and a candidate who kind of caught their imaginations, they just ran with it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Ross Ramsey, what does Ted Cruz say he wants to do if he’s elected and comes to Washington?

ROSS RAMSEY: Well, he says he wants to hold the line on government.

It’s a lot of the rhetoric that you hear in kind of classic Tea Party races. It’s not all fiscal, like the Tea Party was at the beginning, but it’s all sort of we want the government limited, we want to defend our liberties, we’re against Obamacare.

In some — one of the weird things about these races, this race, was that he and Dewhurst were largely saying the same things. They were running against Washington and all of that. He just did it more effectively.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Nathan Gonzales, if Ted Cruz were to win, and as we reported, the odds are that he is favored in the state of Texas, how does that change the makeup of the Senate?

NATHAN GONZALES: Well, I think we have to see what kind of senator Ted Cruz wants to be.

He is 41 years old. He is going to be a senator to the second largest state in the union and he has an opportunity to be a major player within the Republican Caucus. It looks like through his rhetoric in the county campaign that he’s going to align with someone like Sen. Jim DeMint, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who are more concerned with an ideological purity, rather than even having a governing majority. And so if he chooses that, it will embolden that section of the caucus.

Going forward, if Republicans were to gain the Senate majority, I think that governing would be difficult for Republicans because you have this faction that is going to be against what some of the more moderate or mainstream Republicans are going to be for and pushing for.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So are you talking about government even more divided than it is today?

NATHAN GONZALES: I think it’s like what Ross was saying, that even if — there are divisions within the Republican Party in Washington as well as Texas, that Republicans may have the Senate majority in 2013, but it’s going to be hard to get major legislative passed because of a divide on what exactly should be done going forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s lot for us to keep our eye on. And we will do that.

Nathan Gonzales and Ross Ramsey, thank you both.


ROSS RAMSEY: Thank you.