There were two state primaries on July 31, in Georgia and Texas (actually a runoff for candidates failing to secure a majority in May). The latter got the lion’s share of national attention, with the predictable if not universally predicted victory of former state solicitor general Ted Cruz over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for the GOP Senate nomination.
Cruz won easily (57-43), overcoming a major financial disadvantage, Dewhurst’s universal name ID (he’s been in his statewide post for 10 years), and his opponent’s strong backing from most Texas Republican officials, most notably Gov. Rick Perry and two candidates dispatched from the field in May (Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and former SMU, NFL and ESPN star Craig James). While most observers interpreted the results via the familiar template of Tea Party Insurgent Defeats Moderate Establishment Pol, what made the race fascinating was that Dewhurst was an unlikely target for an ideological purge. A self-described “constitutional conservative” with strong backing from Texas business and social-conservative groups, about the only “heresy” he could be credibly accused of was a record of occasional negotiations with Democrats in the Texas legislature. But that was enough: Cruz’s vast array of out-of-state backers (e.g., the Club for Growth, Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservative Fund, various Tea Party groups, Sarah Palin) argued that weak-kneed Beltway Republicans needed to be sent another message against any compromise with Democrats on the difficult fiscal issues expected to come up immediately following the November elections—win or lose.
Another interpretation is simply that the line separating “true conservatives” from just regular conservatives is continuing to move to the Right. Cruz is notable for embracing some of the odder memes of the Tea Party Movement, such as the demonization of any sort of controls on economic development as emanating from a United Nations-led conspiracy dating back to the adoption of a vague “Agenda 21” at the Rio conference on sustainable development back in 1992 (this has been a particular obsession of the John Birch Society, but has inspired actual legislation in Alabama and pops up regularly in state and local GOP party platforms).
In the end, Cruz’s real ace-in-the-hole was probably the absence of any concerns about an “extremist” candidate losing Republicans a Senate seat (aside from Texas’s strong red-state character, the Democratic nominee is a little-known and poorly financed former state legislator who struggled to put away a perennial candidate in his primary), along with the strong desire of national and Texas conservatives to promote a young, articulate Hispanic politician with unimpeachably right-wing views. Along with fellow-Cuban-American Marco Rubio, Cruz will become a high-visibility amulet against GOP fears that demographic trends doom them to minority status in the near future.
Down-ballot in Texas, the two hottest U.S. House runoffs actually involved Democrats: African-American Marc Veasy narrowly defeated Hispanic candidate Domingo Garcia for the nod in a heavily Democratic new district in the Dallas area; and state legislator Pete Gallego (the insider favorite as the better candidate) beat former congressman Ciro Rodriguez for the nomination in a competitive West Texas district.
In Georgia, there were a decent number of significant primary races, with GOP runoffs now pending in a safely Republican new mountain congressional district and in the Savannah River district represented by perennially vulnerable Democratic Rep. John Barrow. An unusual number of GOP state legislators also lost, partially because of simmering Tea Party concerns over ethics and tax issues. But the marquee contest involved an unusual series of 12 regional sales tax referenda designed to produce new revenues for transportation projects, a gambit promoted by former GOP governor Sonny Perdue and other Republican leaders as a way to avoid imposing a tax increase legislatively. Despite massive and unopposed ad spending by business groups decrying the state’s transportation problems, the tax initiative lost—often by large margins—in nine of the twelve regions, including traffic-gridlocked metro Atlanta, thanks to a powerful Tea Party-driven conservative backlash, supplemented in some areas by liberal opposition based on hostility to regressive sales taxes and concerns the state is insufficiently investing in public transportation. The results may be nationally significant as a sign of continuing tensions between GOP elected officials struggling to govern and grassroots conservatives gripped by anti-government and anti-tax fever.
The presidential race was dominated this last week by the publicity—mostly negative—surrounding Mitt Romney’s overseas trip, which has exacerbated growing signs that the GOP candidate is having trouble allaying doubts and concerns about his personality and competence. It’s notable that the mockery he inspired in London could taint his one previously unchallenged positive piece of personal biography: his stewardship of the 2002 Olympics. Perhaps coincidentally, new polls this week showed the president re-opening a statistically significant lead, and a Pew survey indicated Romney’s personal favorability ratings are deteriorating at the worst possible time.
Romney’s campaign continues to argue that poor economic conditions provide him with a light burden in making himself a credible alternative to the incumbent. Today’s July Jobs Report might have given Obama a lift: the 163,000 net new jobs for the month considerably exceeded expectations, and represented the best numbers since February. But a tiny upward tick in the unemployment rate—inflated by rounding-up—gave Republicans the talking point they needed to claim the recovery has fatally stalled.
Photo Credit: Bexar Republican