Tea Party Still Flexing Muscles In Senate Races

Tuesday night there was another strong Tea Party showing in the Republican Senate primary in Texas. The expected nominee, David Dewhurst, was unable to avoid a runoff because of strong far right support for Ted Cruz. Melissa Block talks with Emily Ramshaw of the Texas Tribune about the result.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Candidates backed by the Tea Party have recently pulled off upset wins in U.S. Senate races in Indiana and Nebraska. And now, the Tea Party has flexed its muscle in Texas, helping propel Senate candidate Ted Cruz into a Republican run-off.

TED CRUZ: This race is ground zero in the battle between the moderate establishment and the conservative Tea Party tidal wave that is sweeping this country.

BLOCK: That's Ted Cruz speaking to supporters last night after his second place finish in the GOP primary. In July, he'll face the state's lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, in the run-off. Emily Ramshaw, editor of the Texas Tribune, joins me to talk about the race. Emily, welcome to the program.

EMILY RAMSHAW: Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: And let's talk first about that establishment candidate, the lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, who beat Ted Cruz in yesterday's primary, 45 to 34 percent, but he did not get over the 50 percent he would need to avoid the run-off. Was this supposed to be a gimme for him?

RAMSHAW: This was originally supposed to be a gimme for the lieutenant governor. He's been in office in Texas since 1998. He is really, you know, an establishment Republican here, had the backing of Governor Rick Perry and he also outspent Ted Cruz 2 to 1. So, really, folks were thinking this was going to be a walk in the park for him. And then, redistricting happened, which pushed Texas' primary election back until late May, giving Ted Cruz and the Tea Party more time to raise money, more time to mobilize and get out the vote.

And obviously, anytime you have a late election, you really have the hyper-partisans who show up to vote.

BLOCK: And the insurgent we're talking about Ted Cruz, former state solicitor general, 41 years old, Cuban-American, has a compelling family story and he has wowed some very powerful people aligned with the Tea Party.

RAMSHAW: Absolutely. He is a Tea Party darling. He has the support nationally of Sarah Palin, of Jim Demint. He's gotten some really strong superPAC support from the Club For Growth. So, he has really sort of threatened the lieutenant government in this primary battle. So now, they head into a late July run-off. And when you have a late July, a late summer run-off in Texas, in the dog days of summer here, really, the people who show up to vote are the very far right and the very far left, which looks good for Cruz and bad for Dewhurst.

BLOCK: Emily, Texas is a reliably red state. Is there any viable contender on the Democratic side in the Senate race, or do you assume that whoever wins the Republican run-off becomes the next senator from Texas?

RAMSHAW: You know, on the Democratic side, there are two candidates also in a run-off, Paul Sadler and Grady Yarbrough. But generally speaking, whoever wins the Republican primary is a pretty sure bet to be your senator.

BLOCK: Let's talk about how the primary has shaped up so far. This race is for the seat that's being vacated by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who's retiring. That conservative Tea Party tidal wave that Ted Cruz was just mentioning in that tape we heard, has the primary battle been over who is a true conservative here?

RAMSHAW: Absolutely. You're seeing this not just in the Senate race, but in races all across Texas. This is really less of a fight between Democrats and Republicans. It's more of a fight between moderate Republicans and Tea Party conservatives. The chorus over and over again is who is the real conservative, who's the true conservative, who's going to fight for your values in Washington or at the legislature.

BLOCK: Emily, what do you think this says about the strength of the Tea Party right now in Texas?

RAMSHAW: I think you're seeing nationally and you're seeing in Texas that the Tea Party continues to be a big player at a very high level. They have institutional support, increasing superPAC support and they're really challengers in these big races.

BLOCK: OK. Emily Ramshaw, editor with the Texas Tribune. Thanks so much.

RAMSHAW: Thanks for having me.

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