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July 30, 2012: A special feature from the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy
Baker Institute Update:  Dewhurst v. Cruz — Voter turnout will be key
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Dewhurst v. Cruz: Voter turnout will be key

The contentious race to select Texas' Republican Party nominee for the U.S. Senate is one for the history books: Although campaign and outside groups have invested in the most expensive party primary in Texas history (more than $50 million as of mid-July), the candidates in Tuesday's GOP runoff, David Dewhurst (below) and Ted Cruz (below, right), essentially agree on a range of issues.

"This is really a battle between two wings of the Texas Republican Party, with the Republican establishment lining up behind David Dewhurst and the grassroots activists behind Ted Cruz," said Mark P. Jones, Baker Institute fellow in political science as well as Joseph D. Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies and chair of the Department of Political Science at Rice University.

Robert M. Stein, the institute's fellow in urban politics and Rice's Lena Grohlman Fox Professor of Political Science, agrees. "For the Tea Party voters in the Republican Party, the word 'conservative' is not enough. They don't want people who have been in office, like Dewhurst, to be re-elected. They want someone who has no prior to commitment to leadership, governors and majority leaders."

A Cruz win would send tremors through the Texas Republican Party establishment as well as establishment Republicans nationally, Jones says, because "it would be an example of a solid conservative Republican establishment candidate with a substantial financial advantage competing head-to-head against a grassroots candidate, and losing. It would embolden other grassroots candidates in the future to challenge the establishment — for instance, in the 2014 GOP primaries in Texas." 

Both Dewhurst, lieutenant governor of Texas since 2002, and Cruz, a former Texas solicitor general who has never held an elective office, favor repealing President Obama's health care law; amending the U.S. Constitution to require that Congress pass balanced budgets; and outlawing abortions in all cases except those in which the mother's life is in danger.

Voters scratching their heads at the polls should consider the type of senator they want in Washington, Jones said. "If they want the type who will focus on winnable battles and work to obtain resources for Texas, but who will compromise to attain policy goals, that's Dewhurst," he said. "If you want someone who is going to constantly challenge Democrats, including President Obama if he is re-elected, as well as who will work to pull the GOP delegation in the Senate sharply to the right, then Ted Cruz is your man."

The winner of tomorrow's GOP primary will likely be the candidate who replaces Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is retiring after three terms in the Senate. Although two Democrats are also in a runoff race for their party's nomination this year, neither has a real chance to win in November, both Jones and Stein said.  

For a pivotal and very expensive race, a relatively small number of voters — less than a million statewide — will determine the outcome, Stein said. "Partisan primary runoff elections are largely determined by which candidate is able to turn out more of their general election supporters," he added. Both Jones and Stein said the GOP runoff was too close to call.

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The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy is a nonpartisan public policy think tank located on the campus of Rice University in Houston, Texas. The institute's distinguished fellows and scholars research and collaborate with experts from academia, government, the media, business and private organizations on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy.
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