Tuesday night will see the last debate between two candidates battling for the Texas Republican nomination to fill a vacating Senate seat in the November general election.
Tea Party upstart Ted Cruz will lock horns with mainstream Republican David Dewhurst, seeking to hold a narrow lead in a tight race. In less than a week, early voting will begin for the contest.
Ted Cruz forced a runoff election in the Texas GOP Senate race two months ago.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican with years of state-level service, was short of the 50% majority needed to earn the nomination outright. Cruz, a Tea Partier, is looking to upset Dewhurst. The two men will now face a runoff election on July 31 to advance to the November general election. A runoff also will decide the Democratic primary.
After a Tea Party flare-up in the Indiana primary — which saw veteran Republican Senator Richard Lugar unseated by an up-start Tea Party candidate — conservative voters may again vent their rage at the Republican establishment in Texas.
A year ago, when current Senate seat holder Bailey Kay Hutchinson announced she would not run for re-election, Dewhurst, a staple on the state political scene, was considered a shoe-in.
Enter the Tea Party.
The newest polls are mixed. A poll commissioned for the Cruz-backing Citizens United Political Victory Fund showed Cruz well ahead of Dewhurst, 47% to 38%. The same poll showed that 14% remained undecided.
But another poll released by the Dewhurst camp showed their candidate with a commanding 50% to 42% lead.
Cruz, who has earned endorsements from Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum, has been described by the Wall Street Journal as a sort-of-cocky young gunner, a mix between Florida libertarian Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. Cruz was the first Hispanic solicitor general in Texas, the youngest solicitor general in the United States, and had the longest tenure in the post thus far in Texas history.
If Cruz manages to win the runoff, the Tea Party movement in Texas and Indiana may be prologue to a wider story of Tea Party insurgency in election 2012.