The Brief: Top Texas News for Feb. 21, 2012

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, right, at a U.S. Senate candidate debate on Jan. 12, 2012.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, right, at a U.S. Senate candidate debate on Jan. 12, 2012.

The Big Conversation:

David Dewhurst leads his Republican competitors for U.S. Senate, but Ted Cruz is still decidedly in the mix.

According to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, Dewhurst leads the field with 38 percent of the vote, compared with Cruz at 27 percent, and former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and former ESPN analyst Craig James at 7 percent.

The 11-point gap between Dewhurst and Cruz resembles TT/UT polling from October, which showed Dewhurst with a 12-point lead over Cruz, 22 percent to 10 percent.

Though Dewhurst still claims a comfortable lead, Cruz appears to have pulled ahead in the race for second place, which could decide who faces Dewhurst in a runoff if the lieutenant governor can't pull 50 percent of the vote.

"Cruz is in the advantageous position right now of, for the most part, defending his ideas against Dewhurst's record," said Jim Henson, who co-directs the poll and teaches government at the University of Texas at Austin. "In the last few cycles, that's been a good place to be, and not to be the person who's having to defend your actions in government."

On the Democratic side, candidates have barely registered, with four of five named candidates — Sean Hubbard, Addie Dainell Allen, Daniel Boone and Paul Sadler — in a statistical tie and 55 percent saying they'd prefer someone else.

If Dewhurst wins in November, his departure would free up the position of lietenant governor, in which several candidates have expressed interest. Comptroller Susan Combs leads her potential competitors with 27 percent, followed by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, with 20 percent.

"That race is still volatile," said Daron Shaw, the co-director of the poll. "It's almost like a Google count of who gets mentioned most."

Culled:

  • Rick Santorum — whom the latest Texas Tribune/University of Texas poll shows handily leading his fellow GOP candidates handily in Texas — will hold a fundraiser in Austin on Friday at the Headliners Club, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Republican State Reps. Tan Parker of Flower Mound and Paul Workman of Austin will help host the event, for which tickets start at $500.
  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi addressed the recent controversy over federal funding for birth control while speaking at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the Texas A&M Univeristy campus on Monday night. "The fact is that this isn’t an issue of church and state," Pelosi, who was invited to speak by former President George H.W. Bush, said when asked how she reconciles her Catholic beliefs with her support for contraception. Pelosi also praised Bush, who attended the even with his wife, Barbara. "His name and his presidency are synonymous with the word 'civility,'" Pelosi said.
  • According to new federal campiagn finance disclosures, Ron Paul raised about $4.5 million in January and will likely head into Super Tuesday in a stronger financial position than either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum, both of whom have accumulated at least $1 million in campaign debt. Paul currently claims $1.64 million cash on hand and no debt.

"He is a genuine social and fiscal conservative who can dethrone Obama and get America back on track. It's great to see today's poll and its indications that my fellow conservatives are tuning in to his values." — U.S. Senate candidate Craig James on Rick Santorum in an email sent to James' supporters

Must-Read:

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.