While most politics-watchers eyeball the Republican presidential contest, a fascinating GOP primary race is shaping up in Texas, where a U.S. Senate seat is up for grabs on May 29 as Kay Bailey Hutchison retires.
Former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, with Tea Party support, is taking on Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the establishment-favored candidate. Cruz, without big TV money but with persistence similar to that of Rick Santorum visiting every county in Iowa, has moved from little-known to contender: One recent poll shows Dewhurst with 38 percent of Republicans, Cruz with 27 percent, and two other candidates in single digits.
I spoke with Cruz by telephone this morning and realized once again that he is a very smart guy. He's also a champion debater (see my interview with him from WORLD's Nov. 7, 2009, issue). But what makes this race nationally significant is Cruz's Hispanic ethnicity. George W. Bush took 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2004 presidential race, but John McCain's only garnered 31 percent in 2008. Republicans need to do better, and conservative leaders like Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida and Gov. Susana Martinez in New Mexico are showing the way.
Right now I can say with pundit near-certainty that whichever Texan wins the GOP Senate nomination will gain election in November. (Right now, 29 out of 29 Texas statewide officers are Republicans.) But if the GOP doesn't win more of the Latino vote, that probably won't be the case a decade from now, as Texas demographics continue to change. If Texas reverts to Democratic control, so will go the nation-with California and New York easy Democratic wins, it will exceptionally hard for a Republican to be elected president if he starts with the Electoral College votes of the three largest states arrayed against him.
If neither Cruz nor Dewhurst gains a majority on May 29, the two will battle in a runoff, and Cruz's determined support will give him the advantage in a lower-turnout second round. WORLD will have more on this race over the next two months.