Solicitor General

U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz speaks to a cheerful crowd after he defeated Republican rival, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a runoff election for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retiring Kay Bailey Hutchison Tuesday, July 31, 2012, in Houston. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Johnny Hanson)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Tea party darling Ted Cruz convincingly defeated the Republican establishment favorite, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, in Texas' runoff election Tuesday, capturing the GOP nomination to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison as fiercely conservative voters shook one of America's reddest states to its political core.

The race had been closely watched nationally as one of the most-vivid contrasts between the GOP mainstream and grass-roots, conservative activists. But as results began to pour in, it turned out to be no contest. Cruz completed the upset by grabbing advantages in key cities around the state where Dewhurst had once enjoyed stronger name recognition, fundraising and political organization.

"We are witnessing a great awakening," Cruz told cheering supporters in Houston shortly after Dewhurst called him to concede. "Millions of Texans, millions of Americans are rising up to reclaim our country, to defend liberty and to restore the Constitution."

More than 1 million Texans voted in the runoff, a surprisingly strong turnout for balloting that came during the dog days of summer.

"We're just tired of the government ignoring the Constitution," said Don Steinway, a 76-year-old retired commercial airline pilot who lives in Houston and described himself as a staunch supporter of the tea party.

Overseeing the state Senate from the powerful lieutenant governor's post since 2003, Dewhurst was long considered a slam dunk in his race with Cruz, the former state solicitor general and son of a Cuban immigrant.

Dewhurst had the endorsement of much of Texas' Republican mainstream, including Gov. Rick Perry, who despite his failed run for president is still widely popular back home. He also had a $200 million personal fortune he could dip into and did, loaning his Senate campaign at least $24.5 million.

But Cruz has a fiery stage presence that made tea party supporters across the state swoon, and received millions from national, conservative organizations that targeted Dewhurst as too moderate.

Even though the lieutenant governor oversaw some of the most-conservative state legislative sessions in Texas history and helped speed the passage of laws requiring women to undergo a sonogram before having an abortion and voters to show identification at the polls — he also occasionally compromised with Democratic lawmakers to keep the legislative agenda moving.

Looking exhausted and shaken, Dewhurst told a small crowd in another part of Houston, "We got beat up a little bit but we never gave up."

"We came up a little short this evening, which is something I'm not used to, being short," said Dewhurst, who stands well over 6 feet tall. "But we will never stop fighting for our beloved Texas."

Perry then released a statement calling Cruz "a force to be reckoned with: an excellent candidate and a great conservative communicator."

Meanwhile, former Democratic state Rep. Paul Sadler easily bested perennial candidate Grady Yarbrough to capture his party's nomination and face Cruz in November's general election, but Cruz begins that race the overwhelming favorite.

Sadler said that he stood "alone as the only nominee of a major political party in Texas because the Texas Republican Party has been hijacked by the tea party."

FreedomWorks organized volunteers for Cruz, and the group's president, Matt Kibbe, struck a similar tone but for a different reason, calling Cruz's victory: "the latest step in the American people's hostile takeover of Washington."

Cruz memorized the U.S. Constitution while in high school and successfully painted his opponent as wishy-washy — even though they actually disagree on little, either politically or ideologically. The 41-year-old Cruz had never run for political office but bolstered his political credentials arguing in front of the state Supreme Court as the longest-serving solicitor general in Texas history.

Texas Republicans aren't used to losing: The state has not elected a Democrat statewide since 1994. But Cruz attacked Dewhurst from the right, and the lieutenant governor's campaign had no real answer.

The state primary was pushed back from Super Tuesday to late May due to a legal fight over redistricting maps drawn by the GOP-dominated Legislature. The 66-year-old Dewhurst beat Cruz by 10 percentage points in the primary but fell about 70,000 votes short of the majority needed for an outright win in a nine-Republican field vying for the party's nomination.

But Cruz gained momentum just by surviving to force a runoff, and solidified his support in the race's final weeks. Things turned especially nasty in the late going, with both sides accusing the other of lying.

Dewhurst also was endorsed by former baseball great Nolan Ryan, as well as former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, who finished third in the Republican primary, and ex-NFL running back and ESPN commentator Craig James, the primary's fourth-place primary finisher.

None of it was enough.

Cruz was endorsed by ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, radio talk show host Glen Beck, U.S. Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Kentucky's Rand Paul, as well as former GOP presidential hopeful and Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

"The message of this race couldn't be clearer for the political establishment: the Tea Party is alive and well and we will not settle for business as usual," Palin said via Facebook.

Natache Reeves, a 42-year-old nurse from the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Grapevine, said she voted for Cruz because he had Palin's support and was less likely to restrict handgun use.

"I love Sarah Palin, and she's backing Ted Cruz," Reeves said. "I pretty much agree with everything that rolls out of her mouth."

Cruz has drawn comparisons to Indiana, where state Treasurer Richard Mourdock defeated incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar in the Republican primary. But in Texas, the nation's second-most populous state, a win by a tea party-backed candidate is likely to resonate even more.

To Dewhurst's supporters, Cruz said, "We ask you to join us."

"We want you on our team," he continued. "In the heat of the campaign there have been harsh words spoken but I am hopeful that all of us can put them behind us and work together going forward."

Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate, former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz, left, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst debate each other at the King Street Patriots event hall, Monday, July 23, 2012, in Houston. Dewhurst and Cruz lobbed barbs Monday night at the debate in Houston sponsored by the tea party organization.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Primary runoff elections are coming to a final vote Tuesday. Texas will name a winner in a U.S. Senate battle some are calling the hottest race in Texas.

Since U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson announced in January that she is retiring and not seeking a fourth term, the competition between Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz has grown fierce. The winner of the runoffs will become the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate and advance to the November general election. There, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate will most likely win, due to Texas’ current status as a Republican stronghold, government assistant professor Jason Casellas said.

“There’s about a 99 percent probability that the Republican candidate will win in November,” Casellas said. “Texas is still a heavily Republican state right now.”

Former student body president Natalie Butler said students should consider the issues that affect them as members of the UT community.

“People need to keep the University and higher education in their minds as an issue when they do vote,” Butler said. “Go vote, if you haven’t early voted. Just go vote.”

A primary runoff election occurs in Texas when no candidate for a political office is able to secure the 50 percent and one vote, or more than half of those who voted, necessary to gain their party’s nomination and advance to the general election. At that point, the top two candidates move into a primary runoff to determine who will advance to the general election in November. The candidate with most votes wins the primary runoff.

Republican: At the state level, Republican voters will be choosing candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. Supreme Court and two Railroad Commissioner positions. At the local level, voters will choose candidates for U.S. Representative, State Board of Education member, State Senator and 24 Precinct Chairman positions.

Democrat: At the state level, Democrats will be choosing candidates for U.S. Senate. At the local level, voters will choose candidates for Constable and six Precinct Chairman positions.

Candidates: Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst

Chris Elam, spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas, said his organization looks forward to working with either candidate, as they have both proven to be conservative leaders with similar views on almost all issues.

“Both candidates have demonstrated a commitment to Republican and conservative principles,” Elam said.

“It’s mainly a matter of style,” Casellas said. “They are both against abortion, gay marriage and other major issues. It’s more a matter of emphasis. Cruz will be more of a maverick and Dewhurst will be more of an establishment type. It’s how they will act in office.”

Casellas said Cruz has proven to be a better orator than Dewhurst and may be more vocal in office. Cruz has experience as an attorney and was a debate champion at Princeton University.

Aside from their personalities, the candidates’ political backings are another possible indicator of how they will behave in office, with Cruz having the more active support base, Casellas said.

“Cruz has more of a backing of Tea Party activists, and Dewhurst seems to be more of an establishment Republican,” he said.

Cruz has gained public support from major Tea Party figures, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and U.S. Congressman Ron Paul. He has also received funding from multiple super PACS, political action committees that raise large amounts of money to campaign for their preferred candidate but cannot coordinate directly with candidates or political parties.

Dewhurst has received endorsements from Gov. Rick Perry, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, 17 state senators and other members of the Texas political arena.

Government graduate student John Graeber said he thinks Cruz’s original Tea Party support base will prove to be a hindrance when in office, as it could create tension for a Congress trying to compromise on long-term issues.

“It seems to me that Dewhurst might be the better candidate strictly because I see Cruz and the fact that he has a close association with the Tea Party as being a possible impediment to Congress’ ability to deal with the longer-term compromises that Congress is going to have to make with regard to policy,” Graeber said. “For instance, I think about the showdown last summer over the budget, and in part, I see that as a product of the unwillingness of the Tea Party block to compromise over tax increases and spending.”

Barney Keller, spokesperson for Club for Growth, a Washington super PAC that has supported Cruz throughout his campaign, said Cruz is gaining more and more support from various areas, which would make his work in Washington easier.

“I think what we have seen on the ground in Texas is Texans from all walks of life increasingly supporting Ted Cruz because they are scared for the future of America and because they believe in free market policies and limited government,” Keller said.

Casellas said the Republican party is fairly split now between its Tea Party and more traditional members, but whichever candidate wins will have the support of both factions once in office.

“The Republican party is kind of divided in a sense,” he said. “We have supporters of the Tea Party having a big component of the party and then sort of the more establishment Republicans that are more concerned with economic policies over social policies. So you still have that kind of divide in the party. Certainly, whoever wins on Tuesday will get the support of both sides.”

Ted Cruz: Cruz is a current partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP in Houston and formerly served as Solicitor General of Texas from 2003-2008. He has also worked as an adjunct professor at UT Law, Director of the Office of Policy Planning for the Federal Trade Commission, Associate Deputy Attorney General and as a member of several campaign teams, including the Bush-Cheney team for the 2000 presidential election. Cruz’s father moved to the U.S. from Cuba at age 18 with only $100 and went on to attend UT and start his own business, a story Cruz has shared in many of his public appearances.

David Dewhurst: Dewhurst has been Lieutenant Governor of Texas since 2003. He had formerly served as State Land Commissioner and in the U.S. Air Force. Dewhurst founded the energy and investment company Falcon Seaboard in 1981. He currently has a net worth of $177 million, which would make him the third richest U.S. senator if elected, according to a 2011 analysis of his finances by the Houston Chronicle. Dewhurst often cites his extensive business and political experience in his campaigning.

Extensive campaigning has been done by both parties throughout the primary election, with $8,818,212 being spent on the Cruz campaign and $19,209,584 on the Dewhurst campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a web source that compiles publicly available political information.

Multiple controversial ads have been released throughout the campaign, including one that blamed Cruz for a teen’s suicide and one that blamed Dewhurst for tax hikes and accused him of lying multiple times.

“It has been a particularly ugly campaign,” Casellas said.

Casellas said the main criticism from Cruz against Dewhurst has been that Dewhurst is less conservative since he supported tax increases in the past. From Dewhurst to Cruz, Casellas said criticisms have focused more on ethical issues, including the accusation that Cruz supports the transfer of U.S. jobs to oversees companies.

“Anything a candidate can do to get voters to become skeptical about the other candidate’s character with a close race like this is something they are going to try to do,” Casellas said.

While Tuesday’s race for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination will be close, Casellas said it will come down to who comes out to vote.

“It’ll be a close race on Tuesday,” he said. “So, it will all be about turnout, who is able to get their voters out there to the polls.”

Early voting numbers tallied 243,795 by the end of early voting Friday, roughly 3.3 percent of those registered to vote in the election.

Casellas said this was higher than expected with the summer election, showing the public’s interest in who their next U.S. senator will be.

“That’s kind of caught a lot of people by surprise, that turnout was higher than expected,” Casellas said. “People want to make sure that they participate, and you know, early voting is easy to do here in Texas and in Austin. You can even do it at Randalls, for example, so it makes it much easier here for people to turn out and vote.”

Dewhurst currently has a narrow lead of 48 to 44 percent over Cruz, according to a recent Dewhurst campaign internal poll.

The Candidates: Paul Sadler and Grady Yarbrough

Paul Sadler’s previous experience in Texas legislation, combined with the relative mystery surrounding his politically inexperienced opponent Grady Yarbrough, has made him the favorite to win the runoff election.

“I’m voting for Paul Sadler,” sociology senior Elise Miller said. “I think he has the most experience and is the best Democratic candidate. Elections matter, like it or not things that affect us and we should have a voice in them.”

As a former member of the Texas House of Representatives, Sadler made a name for himself as a champion of higher education when he was chair of the Public Education Committee from 1995 to 2003. Sadler graduated from Baylor Law School in 1979 and currently works as an attorney.

Yarbrough is a retired educator with no previous political experience. He received a BA in Business Education from Texas College in 1959 and a Masters in Education from Prairie View A&M University in 1968.

Sadler has been an advocate of education and its affordibility throughout his political career. Sadler wrote the education code for Texas public schools and has gained support because of the platform he has built in previous years.

Texas Democratic Party spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña said Sadler was voted one of Texas Monthly’s “Best Legislators” every session he served, and his experience in Texas politics makes him the top Democratic candidate for state senator.

“Every student in Texas has been impacted by the work Sadler has done,” Acuña said. “He’s definitely the most experienced candidate. He’s very intelligent and has a lot to offer and has a great vision for the state of Texas.”

Sadler said that he has always been a fundamental believer in supporting education as a pathway to the future.

“Students care about the same issue as everyone else, with the added issue of efforts to keep student loans at a reasonable rate, which my Republican opponents fail to support,” Sadler said. “The students are interested in the same thing we are as citizens.”

Sadler said he also hopes to pursue interests in health care and supports the DREAM Act as a way to advocate for young immigrants who work hard to get an education.

Yarbrough’s campaign has a $0 budget, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. With a low-key campaign and little communication with supporters or established Democrats, Yarbrough is not favored to win.

Texas Democratic Party spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña said Yarbrough’s success in the primary elections can be attributed to voters’ association of Yarbrough with other unrelated Democratic politicians of the same name, such as Ralph Yarborough or Don Yarborough.

“Yarbrough has what many consider a more famous name in Democratic politics,” Acuña said. “It’s obvious he has gotten to where he is because people associate him with Yarboroughs of the past.”

According to the Grady Yarbrough Facebook page, Yarbrough plans to support Medicare and Medicaid funding, as well as opposing privatization of Social Security. He also intends to work on lowering college tuition.