Today, Texas Republicans will choose their party's nominee to compete for the United States Senate seat being vacated by reitiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The contest has attracted a great deal of media attention because of the intriguing dynamics of the two-way dog fight, which pits an establishment-backed moderate (Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst), against an insurgent movement conservative (former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz). Neither candidate managed to win a majority in the state's May primary, forcing today's runoff. Dewhurst has run an extremely well-financed campaign and has enjoyed the backing of the formidable state Republican machine, including high-profile support from Gov. Rick Perry. Cruz -- a Princeton and Harvard educated Hispanic who clerked for US Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist before becoming the youngest state Solicitor General in America -- is the Tea Party favorite. He's relied on heavy support from the conservative Club for Growth, as well as a host of national conservative figures, from George F. Will, to Sen. Jim DeMint, to Hugh Hewitt to Sarah Palin. National Review's editorial board also endorsed Cruz early on, reaffirming their nod in a blistering editorial published yesterday:
Mr. Dewhurst is an undistinguished, go-along/get-along creature of the GOP leadership’s seniority-oriented model of politics. He is a student of the school of thought that rallied party operatives behind Indiana’s too-long-lived Richard Lugar when a credible conservative alternative was available in the person of Richard Mourdock. His views — though perhaps not his temperament — would make him an ideal candidate to represent a state such as Maine, where the only other option would be a Democrat to his left. But a strong conservative can win in Texas, and we have one in Ted Cruz.
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. He has transformed himself from second-best to flailing embarrassment...Texas deserves something more than another time-serving Republican placeholder, and Ted Cruz is as fine a candidate as is seeking office today. Republican primary voters rarely are presented with so obvious a choice or so rich an opportunity.
The Washington Post calls the Cruz revolt the biggest surprise of the 2012 cycle:
A Cruz win would not only be a major rebuke of the well-known (and VERY well financed) Dewhurst, but it would also arguably be the most significant statewide upset of the 2012 cycle to date. (Yes, we’re talking about the same cycle in which a sitting senator was dislodged in Indiana and a little-known state legislator won the GOP Senate nomination in Nebraska.) ... For starters, Dewhurst didn’t implode. He raised heaps of money and added millions from his own checkbook. He began with a huge name identification advantage, was backed by Gov. Rick Perry, and enlisted the help of David Carney, one of the sharpest political minds in Texas. And he was the beneficiary of a super PAC headed by Rob Johnson, another top Texas GOP hand.
The appealing 'comeback kid' narrative aside, what outcome is actually expected tonight? Several months ago, a Cruz victory seemed improbable in the extreme, but he's rallied in the home stretch and is peaking at the perfect moment. The final PPP survey suggests the conservative is poised to defeat the Lt. Governor by ten points, but National Journal reports that Dewhurst's internals continue to show him holding onto a modest lead. Dewhurst is thought to be the beneficiary of strong early voting totals, but Cruz's momentum is undeniable. It's also clear that regardless of what Dewhurst's campaign is saying publicly, his supporters are very nervous, if not desperate. Here's an especially sleazy and unfair ad Dewhurst backers are running in Texas, attempting to link Cruz to the suicide of a troubled teen:
We'll know soon enough whether PPP's figures or Dewhurst's internals are more accurate. For what it's worth, Lone Star State Democrats are also holding their Senate run-off today. Whomever emerges from the GOP fight is expected to glide to victory in November, with both Republicans leading potential Democrat rivals by double digits in several polls.