At 7:00am this morning the polls opened for early voting in the Texas Primary election. After months of legal challenges, culminating in a Supreme Court case regarding redistricting, voting has begun. The original date for the election was March 6th, but was moved several times throughout the court battles.
While 10 candidates are on the ballot in the Senate race, there are at this point only two with significant chance of securing victory: Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and Texas former Solicitor General Ted Cruz.
The most recent non-affiliated polling, by Public Policy Polling, showed the two only 12% apart on April 25th, with Dewhurst and Cruz are polling at 38% and 26% respectively. The third and fourth place candidates – former sportscaster and NFL player Craig James and former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert – are holding at less than 10% each. Should no candidate break 50% of the vote, a runoff election will be triggered for 60 days later.
Cruz and Dewhurst have each raised millions, and millions more are now being raised and spent by PAC’s and 501(c)4 organizations, lobbying Texas voters to support their preferred candidate.
Club For Growth Action is the most recent group to join the fray. On the heels of their successful efforts to propel Indiana State Treasure Richard Mourdock to victory, denying veteran incument Sen. Richard Lugar Republican renomination, they have set their crosshairs on David Dewhurst with a $1 million media buy slamming the Lieutenant Governor.
In addition to improving poll numbers, the Cruz campaign has been bolstered in recent weeks by several prominent endorsements, including former GOP Veep nominee, Governor Sarah Palin. Mere days before the start of early voting, Palin’s endorsement has given the Cruz campaign a welcome boost as they enter the final stretch of the campaign.
For Cruz, the fight at this point is to keep Dewhurst from breaking 50% of the vote and secure his spot in the runoff election. For much of the election cycle it has been assumed by many political prognosticators that Dewhurst, the sitting Lieutenant Governor and a fundraising powerhouse, would handily beat all challengers. Since last September however, Cruz has cut Dewhurst’s lead from 29% to 12% and raised his own name ID from 29% to 48%.
Being forced into a runoff would be a significant blow for Dewhurst. The runoff election would take place in late July, with only a fraction of the expected voter turnout of the Primary. Making the runoff would also give the Cruz campaign, conservative activists and third party organizations the taste of political blood in the water necessary to incite an even more rigorous campaign through the heat of the Texas Summer, and set the state for another conservative U.S. Senate nomination triumph this primary season.