The Austin Chronicle

Election Day Today Could Spell Perry Troubles

By Richard Whittaker, July 31, 2012, 7:02am, Newsdesk

The 2012 primary season ends today with the last deciding rounds in the Democratic and Republican party primaries. Yet, for the GOP, it is looking less like a battle between individual candidates and more like a popularity poll on Gov. Rick Perry, his favored campaign manager, and the self-appointed head of the Texas Tea Party.

The Democrats have a thin slate locally, with only veteran legislator Paul Sadler vs retired teacher Grady Yarbrough for US Senate and embattled incumbent Constable Adan Ballesteros versus suspected DINO Michale Cargill in precinct two (we endorsed Sadler and Ballesteros.)

So the big excitement is over in the GOP races, where the battle is between rival establishments. Its most obvious battleground is Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst versus former solicitor general Ted Cruz over the US Senate seat vacated by retiring incumbent Kay Bailey Hutchison.

This is a bloodbath that could determine some major political futures (and, no, we don't mean either of the grey men running.) Cruz has self-appointed Tea Party king maker Jim DeMint and his FreedomWorks PAC, plus every wingnut conservastooge from Glenn Beck to Sarah Palin in his corner. Yesterday morning we even received a press release from conservative mouthpiece the Nation Review Online saying how heavily they were throwing their weight behind Cruz because of Dewhurst's scorched earth tactics.

Now Cruz, who has been bare-knuckled throughout this fight, can scarcely throw stones here, but Dewhurst has gone to war. His most recent ad smears a child's blood on his opponent's hands, linking him (in baroque fashion) to a prison scandal. Now this is the kind of info that a good campaign will have in its back pocket: Why drop the bomb now?

The prime suspicion is that Dewhurst is losing to Cruz, and knows it. New numbers from Public Policy Polling have Cruz up 52% to 42%.

If that's bad news for Dewhurst, it's even worse news for his campaign hatchet man Dave Carney, who would go zero for three this cycle (Dewhurst, plus both Perry and Newt Gingrich in the presidential race.)

More importantly, Dewhurst has Perry in his corner. What does it say about Governor Oops if he can't get his number one guy wedged into a Republican safe seat like the junior US Senator for Texas?

That's not the only race Governor Goodhair will be watching. What happens if Texas Railroad Commission chair Barry Smitherman can't handily put away Comal County commissioner Greg Parker? Same goes with Justice Supreme Court David Medina: He may have the Perry rub, but then challenger John Devine has traditional fringe groups like the Eagle Forum at his back.

It could all also bode ill for Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. The state's top Tea Partier has backed Dewhurst and Medina, but now his own supporters are turning on him. Politically, Patrick had to support Dewhurst (if he wins, Patrick wants to replace him as lite guv: If he loses, Patrick still has to contend with him as president of the Texas Senate.) That did not stop Tea Party Caucus advisory committee chair JoAnn Fleming from harrumphing, "a majority of the TEA Party Caucus Advisory Committee wants to make it clear that Senator Dan Patrick does not speak for us in this US Senate race when he calls Dewhurst 'conservative.'"

So here's the conundrum for Democrats. Obviously, they don't want to see a fringe fruitloop like Cruz representing Texas in the US Senate, not more hardliners in statewide office. However, if the GOP splits wide open, and a radical base overthrows the status quo, it gives Democrats a chance to redraw the battle lines. There's even some speculation that some moderate Republicans might defect if they see a catspaw like Cruz on the ballot.

But here's the real kicker. If the crazy right completes their revolution in a primary with less than 10% turnout, then Perry et al look powerless. One GOP consultant has told Paul Burka that a win for Cruz means Texas turns purple within four years.

Now for years, we have predicted that the fringe right would drive the GOP over the cliff eventually. If Perry and his proxies take a beating today, then there's a good shot that 2016 date could become 2014 – the year Perry is up for re-election.

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