Monday, August 22, 2011

TX-SEN: A Look Inside The Mind of Ted Cruz

Originally published in Red Racing Horses.

***

The Thursday before last I missed my first presidential debate of the season. Instead of following the liveblog here at RRH, I was in Clear Lake, Texas (don't tell me it is not really a city, Houston!) for a senatorial forum hosted by the local tea party.

The format was interesting; audience members were given a scorecard to rate the answers of each candidate to a predetermined set of questions (candidates could not hear each other's answers). However, the more intriguing aspect of this event took place after the forum. All of the candidates exited the auditorium and met with the audience to shake hands and answer individual questions. A couple of minor candidates absorbed significant attention, with the booming Glenn Addison working a large crowd while he was there and Lela Pittenger turning heads with some passion of her own. However, my attention was focused on Ted Cruz.

Most of the candidates at the event stuck to the same tune- defend the Constitution, support the free market, and other conservative talking points. Cruz' approach after the event was a bit different: in order to convince attendees to support him, he detailed his campaign strategy.

That strategy hinges upon the idea of the pre-primary. Before anybody ever votes in a given primary, candidates jockey for the strongest position amongst themselves. In Texas, the pre-primary is a competition to consolidate support as the most conservative candidate. This jockeying most commonly manifests itself in endorsements and fundraising. Whoever consolidates the money and activists behind their campaign has 'won' the pre-primary.

Early in the race a variety of candidates jumped in: Railroad Commissioners Michael Williams and Elizabeth Ames Jones; former Secretary of State Roger Williams; Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert; and Solicitor General Ted Cruz. Of these, Roger Williams and Leppert had reputations as establishment and moderate candidates, respectively. This left Michael Williams, Jones and Cruz to compete for the affections of the conservative primary electorate.

Cruz claims to have won this pre-primary. Looking at the field, this seems to be a true statement. Both Williamses have dropped down to different congressional races, and Jones has only raised a few hundred thousand dollars. In contrast, Cruz repeatedly noted his endorsements from Senators Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, and most importantly Jim DeMint. He has also rounded up the support of the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, two of the more important groups to watch for in a GOP primary. His support is also diverse within the universe of the Texas GOP- one recent email touted the support of both Republican Liberty Caucus national Chairman Dave Nalle and President of the Family Research Council Tony Perkins. Cruz went to great lengths to emphasize himself as the only candidate who can gather the support to take on Dewhurst in the primary.

David Dewhurst is the 800 lb elephant in the room. The Lieutenant Governor has held statewide office since 1998, giving him strong name recognition in the primary. More importantly, Dewhurst is independently wealthy and can self-fund advertising in the numerous media markets of Texas. His major downside is a reputation as an establishment Republican; he once declared himself to be a "George Bush Republican" and has been accused of derailing legislation pushed by conservative standard bearer and state Senator Dan Patrick. Cruz's concern is that Dewhurst has the millions it takes to run advertising and frame his own record in the most positive manner possible. Now is the time to take the initiative from the Lieutenant Governor- I was informed by organizers of the forum that Dewhurst is not yet ready to do public events as a candidate.

Obviously Cruz has to fundraise to compete. He already had two strong financial quarters, raising $1 million in the first and $800,000 in the second. Cruz has set a goal of raising $5-10 million, which he claims the campaign is on track to meet. However, he is not the only candidate with strong fundraising.

Other than Dewhurst and Cruz, one other candidate has the resources to compete statewide: former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. He has $3.4 million cash on hand, with solid fundraising in both quarters bolstered by over $2 million in personal loans. However, Cruz plans to use Leppert to absorb moderate voters from Dewhurst, claiming his record in Dallas is riddled with less than conservative policies.

Cruz is seeking to make the race a referendum on records. He is quick to point out his website does not have a traditional 'issues' page; instead, he has a tab labeled 'proven record' which details actions he has taken on various issues as Solicitor General. With a booming presentation on the stump and a solid record before the courts, Cruz is aiming to set himself apart from the pack.
It may be working; Ted Cruz won the straw poll after the event.

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