Turnout Key in GOP Senate Runoff

July 31 is a great time for a trip to the beach, or maybe a family vacation north to escape the Texas summer heat.

But it's not a great time to get people out to the polls for an election. That’s why turnout will be crucial in the GOP Senate runoff, where Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz will spend the month of July fighting to win the Republican nomination.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

"I think it's important for both of us, Mr. Cruz and myself," Dewhurst said.

Dewhurst came in first in the May primary with 44 percent of the vote. But he knows that getting his supporters back a second time won't be easy.

"We're working hard to get all of our voters turned out,” he said. “We think that we're seeing a strong plurality in the state of Texas for my candidacy."

His opponent, Cruz, may have an easier time. His supporters tend to be from the more engaged, more excitable and more passionate Tea Party portion of the GOP. Cruz knows those people love to vote.

"The terrific thing about a July 31 runoff is, the runoff will be decided by the conservative grassroots,” Cruz said. “And we have an overwhelming lead among the conservative grass roots."

The two are heading into the runoff by bashing each other with attack ads. They have similar views on most major Republican policy points: repeal Obamacare, check; shut down the border, yes; lower taxes — the two only disagree on who would lower them more.

That leaves little for them to fight over, which may be why both sides have turned to personal attacks. Cruz is positioning himself as the conservative outsider.

"All over the country Americans are fed up with the same tired establishment incumbents who don't believe anything,” he said. “And voters are looking to new leaders who will stand and fight for conservative principles."

For Dewhurst, it’s a matter of voting for a known quantity. He points to his nine-year record as lieutenant governor.

"Mr. Cruz talks in terms of his record,” Dewhurst said. “He has no record. He's a smart guy, but when you're a midlevel lawyer and you only argue those cases your boss tells you to argue and you only say what your boss tells you to say, that's not a record."

But this race could be decided by which candidate gets the best endorsements. Cruz says his series of last-minute endorsements in May boosted his election day totals.

"It was during those lasts two weeks that we rolled out the endorsements of Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity and Rick Santorum,” he said. “And our polling always showed that those three endorsements had a real impact in terms of voter support."

Dewhurst has a long list of endorsements from the state's Republican leadership, including Gov. Rick Perry, along with a who's who of conservative organizations.

But he may need one last seal of approval to win the runoff: Tom Leppert, fhe former Dallas mayor who finished third in May. And he, like Dewhurst, had his base of support in the Republican establishment.

"We'll talk to him here again,” Dewhurst said. “We'd be pleased with his endorsement and his support. Tom Leppert's a smart fellow, and he's got lots of experience, and I think he could be a big help to us, not only in the next four weeks but in the campaign between now and November 6 and afterwards."

But first there's July 31, an election that has both candidates battling against the Olympics and summer blockbusters just to get supporters to the polls.

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