Monday, July 30, 2012
Cruz vs. Dewhurst: Beldar handicaps the runoff
William A. Jacobson at the Legal Insurrection blog reports: Upset brewing in Texas runoff? PPP says Cruz up big. (Hattip: Instapundit.) This post is adapted from a comment I left there earlier tonight.
I put almost no faith in political polls as a general rule. But I am cautiously optimistic about Ted Cruz' chances in his primary-election runoff against David Dewhurst. I'm going out on a limb to predict that Ted Cruz will win by five or more points.
(1) By merely forcing a runoff, Cruz instantly gained the strategic advantage. He’s been exploiting it adeptly. Dewhurst started with a VAST name recognition advantage among Texas Republicans. But he has never had a serious primary or general election challenge in his previous state-wide races, and his actual performance in office as lieutenant governor was obscure except among those who closely follow state-house politics. So Dewhurst’s support was the proverbial mile wide but only an inch deep.
Dewhurst therefore should have pulled out all the stops against Cruz for the primary. Dewhurst was counting on the third and fourth candidates in the race (former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert and former SMU running back/sportscaster Craig James) to draw most of their support away from Cruz. Instead they drew most of their support from Dewhurst — depriving Dewhurst of the primary-election simple majority that would have prevented a run-off.
(2) When Dewhurst has asserted that most or all of Cruz’ support comes from out-of-state generally — or from Washington, D.C., in particular — that accusation has rung false in the ears of every Texan who’s been paying attention. Cruz lacked Dewhurst’s broad name recognition, but long before the Tea Party movement, Cruz had deep and passionate support among Texas' politically aware movement conservatives. Based on Cruz’ superb performances before the U.S. Supreme Court as Texas’ solicitor general, we were already talking, writing, and blogging about Ted Cruz as a potential U.S. Senator back during Dubya’s first term.
Cruz has built on that support very steadily, and the Tea Party connections and the endorsements from folks like Gov. Palin and Drs. Ron & Rand Paul have indeed brought him visibility. But conservative Texans aren't xenophobic, and nobody here confuses Sarah Palin with Olympia Snowe, nor Rand Paul with Arlen Specter; we're reasonably picky about which out-of-staters we mock as RINOs.
(3) On a net basis, I think it's quite likely that Dewhurst's negative ads will end up costing him runoff votes, not winning them. Dewhurst and Cruz were both already doing some hard-hitting negative advertising even before the initial primary election. But with the additional time (and advertising) permitted by the runoff, many Texans who’d previously been generally aware and generally approving of David Dewhurst as lieutenant governor have found cause for second thoughts. They've learned, to the disappointment of many, that Dewhurst has actually made quite a few legislative compromises that undercut his claim to be a thorough-going conservative.
Worse, they've seen that Dewhurst has a real and very ugly mean streak. That mean streak is no surprise, however, to anyone who's followed Dewhurst's wielding of power as Texas' lieutenant governor: The man has always had sharp elbows and a sharp tongue when he close to employ them. Imagine a rough cross between J.R. Ewing, Bob Dole, and John McCain — each on a bad day.
Fortunately for both Cruz and Dewhurst, though, whatever damage either has done to the other's reputation during this primary election is unlikely to matter in the general election: Obama was never competitive in Texas in 2008, and he's even less competitive here today; he will have negative coattails in this state come November. Neither candidate in the Dems' primary runoff has a fraction of the appeal that Bill White had as the Dem gubernatorial candidate in 2010, and he lost decisively; the Dems haven't won a major statewide election since 1994, and this year's election will extend that losing streak. This runoff will effectively determine Texas' next junior U.S. Senator.
(4) Runoff-election voters are exactly the kind of people most likely to be turned off by negative campaigning that insults their intelligence — but that's exactly the kind of negative campaigning that Dewhurst has chosen to wage. A lot of negative campaign tactics are geared to the politically illiterate. But the Texas Republicans who are likely to turn up in a low-turnout run-off election are relatively better-educated, at least politically, than either their initial primary-election or general-election counterparts. Only the committed bother to show up for primary election runoffs; movement conservatives punch above their weight in runoffs.
Those who understand the Rule of Law and the ethical responsibilities of lawyers acting within its adversary system, for example, are inherently less likely to fall for character assassination attempts which depend upon misattributing to a lawyer who's running for public office the most unsavory characteristics and views of his (or his firm's) most unpopular clients. There will be a higher proportion of primary voters who know, for example, that the second President of the United States, John Adams, had ethically and honorably represented the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre even while he was among the most ardent of American revolutionaries. Those voters can look at Cruz' legal career in context; they can appreciate the conservative causes he championed so ably as Texas' solicitor general; and they can draw the appropriate inferences from the genuine respect that Cruz has earned from judges and appellate lawyers of all political persuasions.
As a result of Dewhurst overplaying his hand by going so negative, a lot of Texans who would happily have voted for Dewhurst in November if he’d won the primary outright have now decided that they don’t want to vote for Dewhurst at all — ever again — for anything. If Cruz wins this runoff, expect Dewhurst to draw a serious primary challenge if he runs for lieutenant governor again in 2014. It's not hard to imagine Dewhurst running for governor instead, even against the incumbent. Speaking of whom:
(5) The diminution in Rick Perry’s luster means he’s had less that could rub off onto David Dewhurst. A considerable portion of Dewhurst’s starting advantage and name recognition was closely bound up with the governor with whom he’s run so frequently, and so successfully, in state-wide elections.
That’s somewhat ironic, because until Perry endorsed Dewhurst against Cruz, Perry and Dewhurst had not been particularly close; they could have been most charitably described as natural rivals for power in Austin who sometimes cooperated with, and just as often opposed, one another.
Perry’s disastrous presidential campaign didn’t hurt him as badly in Texas as it did outside the state, but it still remains to be seen just how badly Perry’s self-immolation will hurt his own long-term standing with the Texas conservatives who’ve kept returning him to the governor’s mansion. My own sense is that Perry is himself now vulnerable to a primary challenge in any future statewide race he runs. By endorsing Dewhurst and campaigning against Cruz, Perry has further dismayed a lot of movement conservatives and Tea Partiers who might have forgiven or forgotten Perry’s debate performances last fall. He’s certainly in no position, for example, to challenge in 2014 for the U.S. Senate seat now held by John Cornyn.
I will support the GOP's nominee whether it's Dewhurst or Cruz. But I fear that Dewhurst would be a "Peter Principle" senator. And even if the Senate doesn't represent Dewhurst's personal level of incompetence, at best he would be a thoroughly conventional senator who's unlikely to ever break out of that crowd of fifty pairs of presidential wanna-bes.
Cruz could stand out among them, and he may well be destined for even bigger responsibilities. Conservative Texans should view their vote for Ted Cruz in this runoff as an inspired long-term strategic investment in Texas' and America's future.
UPDATE (Mon Jul 30 @ 4pm): See also National Review's editors' latest runoff election endorsement, Yes, Ted Cruz for Texas. Key paragraph:
Given the intensity with which conservatives prefer Mr. Cruz to Texas’s popular lieutenant governor, some Republicans have asked, not unfairly, “What’s so bad about David Dewhurst?” Six months ago, our answer might have been: “Nothing, really, if there weren’t a much better choice available. Ted Cruz is far and away a preferable candidate for conservatives seeking an effective and articulate champion of their ideals.” But much has happened since the early days of this race, and Mr. Dewhurst’s vulgar and dishonest campaign of scorched-earth ad hominem against Mr. Cruz raises serious questions about his judgment and his commitment to conservative values.
Yeppers, that's about right.