A Republican showdown in Texas

On May 29, Texas Republicans will vote on who should fill the Senate seat currently held by Kay Bailey Hutchison. A new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll has Lt. Governor David Dewhurst leading Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz, the State’s former Solicitor General, by 40 to 31. Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert is in third place with 17 percent.

The Dewhurst-Cruz race is an interesting one. Dewhurst has been endorsed by the State’s conservative Governor, Rick Perry. However, he has been criticized as insufficiently conservative by the Club for Growth, Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, and Red State’s Erick Erickson. Moreover, Sarah Palin has endorsed Cruz.

How conservative is Dewhurst? The best assessment I’ve seen is an empirical one based on research by Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice University. Although Dewhurst doesn’t vote on legislation, as Lt. Governor he has a major role in managing the legislative agenda of the State Senate. Jones’s analysis led him to conclude as follows:

Dewhurst managed the 2011 legislative agenda in the Texas Senate in a manner consistent with the ideological and policy goals of a majority of the 19 Republican senators. Dewhurst also appears to be neither significantly less nor more conservative than almost two-thirds of the Republican Senate delegation, suggesting considerable ideological affinity between Dewhurst and a majority of the Republican senators.

I also conclude that Dewhurst frequently used his powers of agenda control to help pass legislation opposed by the most conservative members of the Republican delegation. In addition, the best estimate of Dewhurst’s location along the liberal-conservative continuum which dominates voting in the Texas Senate suggests he is significantly less conservative than approximately one-third of the Republican delegation. . . .

Because Texas Republicans are conservative by national standards, my takeaway is that Dewhurst would vote as a mainstream conservative in the Senate. However, Cruz is likely to vote more conservatively than that, which is why Sen. DeMint backs him.

In addition, Cruz is, by the accounts of several people whose judgment I trust, an exceptionally bright and able individual. You can get a sense of this from this brief campaign bioand from his Wikipedia entry, as well.

Accordingly, I’ll be pulling for Cruz. And though Cruz currently trails in the polls, Dewhurst may be hard-pressed to reach 50 percent. In that event, there will be a run-off in July.

STEVE adds: I really should have said something about this race before now.  I’ve known Ted Cruz slightly since the late 1990s, since shortly after he clerked at the Supreme Court for Chief Justice Rehnquist.  A very solid guy.   I’ve also had a very unpleasant run-in with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.  Last year my writing partner Ken Green and I wrote a study for the Texas Public Policy Foundation about the energy sector in Texas, in which, among other things, we argued that the state government should not use its heavy hand to tilt the playing field against coal and toward natural gas, even though Ken and I are both great fans of natural gas.  We think the market should decide.  (And it is–the winner is: natural gas.)  The study made no mention of Dewhurst, but he took offense anyway, and summoned me to his office in the capitol building in Austin and worked me over for about an hour.  It became clear that he is an old fashioned petty corrupt pol who believes in using the power of government to help his friends and favored interests (he made his own personal fortune in the natural gas business).  I’ve met a lot of politicians over the years, but he was perhaps the single most unappealing and offensive one I’ve ever met, in either party.

Cruz is the obvious superior choice.