The Tea Party and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin look poised to help bring off what is being perceived upset victory, this time in Texas:
Ted Cruz is on the cusp of a win in the Texas Republican Senate runoff that would shatter conventional campaign wisdom and elevate him as one of the brightest stars of the tea party generation.
Even some of his aides concede privately they never thought it could happen.
Yet in the closing days of this dead-of-summer contest in a sprawling superstate, Cruz’s flinty campaign had all the trappings of a celebration, with the 41-year-old constitutional lawyer being feted by the country’s most prominent conservatives, including Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and Sens. Jim DeMint and Rand Paul.
“We’re on the 2-yard line. We have marched the entire length of the field. We started out up in the hot dog stands,” Cruz joked Friday evening in a suburban park where hundreds flocked to see Palin. “But we are facing a battle to push it those final two yards. Do the grass roots matter? This race is the test for that proposition.”
Despite being outspent more than 3-to-1, having never run for office and being tasked with penetrating the Lone Star State’s 20 media markets with virtually zero name recognition, Cruz is well positioned to upset Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst Tuesday. It’s a scenario that would send shockwaves through the political elite and embolden the thousands of conservatives from across the country who have descended here to help push him over the finish line.
It’s one thing for a tea party candidate to swipe away an individual House seat or dominate a party convention in a small state, but a statewide win in supersize Texas would be a new high-water mark.
“Dewhurst had every advantage you can have. What Cruz has done to this point was once unthinkable and is now remarkable. He will be an overnight star if he wins, which he is favored to do right now,” said Austin-based GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak, a Cruz supporter and former press secretary to retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
The two most recent public polls have shown Cruz ahead. And a Dewhurst ally with knowledge of an internal survey separate from the campaigns told POLITICO his preferred candidate was trailing by high single digits heading into the weekend.
This underscores two things:
1. The continued clout of Palin among a segment of the GOP.
2. The small amount of wiggle room presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney has to actually move himself a bit further to the center in the general election. That is, if he actually wanted to do so.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.