Cruz, Dewhurst Senate primary one for the record books

More than a few observers of the Texas political scene have concluded that the run-off for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination Tuesday will be remembered as the most incendiary???and perhaps nastiest???Senate run-off since the young Rep. Lyndon Johnson won the Democratic nod over former Gov. Coke Stevenson in 1948.

Also, not that many observers would be surprised if, like LBJ???s race with Stevenson 64 years ago, the showdown between Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz is decided by as small a margin as 87 votes. It???s considered that close, with polling considered unreliable that no one can guess which voters will turn out in the sizzling heat of the Lone Star state in July.

When veteran GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison announced her retirement nearly two years ago, Dewhurst???who has won statewide office three times???was widely considered her heir apparent. So far, millionaire energy company owner Dewhurst has spent $19 million–$11 million from his own fortune???and had the strong backing of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. In addition, 18 of the 19 GOP senators have weighed in for the 66-year-old Dewhurst, presiding officer of the senate. Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, who placed third in the crowded GOP Senate primary in which Dewhurst and Cruz emerged one-two, now supports Dewhurst.

That???s impressive, but so is the backing for the 41-year-old Cruz. Often likened to such Tea Party-backed Senate race winners of 2010 as Marco Rubio (Fla.), Mike Lee (Utah), and Pat Toomey (Pa.), Cruz has the backing of such national conservative stars as Glenn Beck and Rick Santorum. On Friday, Cruz scored a coup when Sarah Palin not only endorsed him, but came into the Lone Star State to deliver her endorsement personally before a large rally of Cruz supporters. The former Alaska governor???s endorsement has made a difference in several contested primaries this year, such as that of Nebraska???s Deb Fischer in winning a three-candidate Senate primary. But Palin rarely makes personal appearances, so her stopover in Texas was big news.

???On 99 percent of US Senate business, Cruz and Dewhurst probably would vote alike,??? George Will wrote recently. Their differences are primarily stylistic and in terms of whom their supporters are. Even before the outcome, the Texas Republican Senate battle is in the record books: with $37 million spent, it is the most expensive race for anything this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

After exhaustive battles before the Democratic State Committee and a legal fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court, Lyndon Johnson emerged as the Democratic nominee in 1948. An angry Stevenson thereupon endorsed Republican nominee Jack Porter in the general election. It didn???t matter much???so Democratic was Texas that LBJ won by a margin of 2-to-1. So it is reversed today: no matter how hard-fought the Republican Senate contest has been or how much it has cost, the Republican will have no trouble winning in the fall.