Things have not gone as planned for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. This was supposed to be easy. He had the experience, he had the supporters and he had the money. Lots and lots of it. Not to mention, he was running against some guy named Ted Cruz in the primaries -- who? By all accounts, Cruz doesn't even have a chin, let alone any experience as an elected official.
The runoff election is one week from today, and if Cruz wins -- an outcome polls say is extremely possible -- it will go down as one of the greatest electoral upsets in recent Texan politics. And good ol' Dave would have run the worst campaign since Rick Perry decided the American people actually wanted another Texan as president. Earlier this month, Public Policy Polling, a nonpartisan organization, had Cruz leading by five points, 49 percent to Dewhurst's 44 percent.
What happened? It began with Rick Perry's endorsement. Under ordinary circumstances, having the endorsement of a governor as strong as Perry would be a good thing -- but that would be underestimating the trauma of Perry's failed run at the White House. It crashed, burned, exploded and then was declared a nuclear hazard area. It's remarkably unclear how much, if at all, Perry's endorsement has helped Dewhurst -- and vice versa. Earlier this month, at a GOP convention in Fort Worth, Perry was booed for calling Dewhurst a friend.
In early days, Dewhurst looked unbeatable. But then he did something really stoopid. He started attacking Cruz with a barrage of advertisements -- when no one even knew who in the world Cruz was! There's a reason political candidates always call someone else running their "opponent." That's because the last thing you want to do is give the other guy more name recognition.
And even though Dewhurst and Cruz would vote almost exactly the same at the U.S. Senate, their tone's all different. Cruz has managed to channel the Tea Party vitriol with the same potency as Perry -- and the Tea Partiers, the ones who actually vote in these runoff elections, plain don't trust Dewhurst, said Marc Campos, a Houston political analyst. "They view Dewhurst as conciliatory, and say, 'We don't trust you,'" Campos said. "They don't want anyone who will reach across the aisle, and David Dewhurst has a history of doing that."
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One of the confounding aspects of the Tea Party movement is they're awfully thin-skinned and thick-skulled. Any attack on any Tea Party favorite does nothing but fortify the movement's conservative orthodoxy, and, somehow, confirm it for them, regardless of how dubious the logic may be. This applies on all levels. Whether it's Michele Bachman, who's currently hypothesizing that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the U.S. State Department. Or Helena Brown on City Council, who wants Houston to default on its pension obligations.
When Dewhurst attacked Cruz in the early days of the campaign, it did two things. First, it let people know that Cruz exists and second, it sounded the alarm that someone who compromises was assailing a man of staunch conservatism. And as Mr. Burns from The Simpsons would say: Release the hounds.
Then there was the matter of Dewhurst's bizarre challenge to debate Cruz in Spanish. This was confusing. Though Dewhurst is fluent in Spanish, and perhaps he wanted to show off his chops, the fracas overtook Dewhurst's narrative as the more experienced, more responsible candidate -- and replaced it with a sideshow.
If Cruz somehow manages to upset Dewhurst, it's possible Dewhurst won't be the only one humiliated. Perry, too, who made the mistake of choosing the wrong horse, will get one more reminder that what he wants doesn't always come true.