U.S. Senate Runoff Races Are a Study in Opposites

The Democratic and Republican candidates for U.S. Senate
The Democratic and Republican candidates for U.S. Senate

Nearly nine weeks after crowded Democratic and Republican primaries for a rare open U.S. Senate seat were pared down to each party’s top two vote-getters for Tuesday’s runoff, the races have become a study in opposites.

On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz, a former state solicitor general, agree on virtually every issue that could come before them in the Senate. But more than $40 million has been spent by the campaigns and outside groups trying to convince voters that the race provides an opportunity to upend all that is wrong with the federal government. If the wrong candidate wins, each side insists, the opportunity will have been wasted.

“Ted is being viciously attacked by the establishment because he will bring real change to Washington,” former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin says in a robocall for Cruz.

“David’s the one candidate best-prepared to make conservative change happen in Washington,” Gov. Rick Perry counters in his latest advertisement for Dewhurst. “Don’t let anyone tell you different.”

The Democratic candidates, former state Rep. Paul Sadler of Henderson and Grady Yarbrough, a former teacher, share significant differences on the economy and illegal immigration, but they are struggling to draw the attention of voters or donors, as the campaigns’ spending is well under $1 million. Texas has not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994.

Sadler said that those who dismiss Texas as a “red state” are ignoring how far to the right Dewhurst and Cruz are. Democrats have the chance to present a viable alternative, he said.

“The Republicans are singing the same hymnal,” Sadler said. “The real debate begins on Aug. 1, when there’s a contrast of substantive issues.”

Yarbrough agreed that Democrats are being underestimated. He has invested much of his savings into broadcasting television advertisements targeting black and Hispanic voters.

“They’re the ones that put me in the runoff, and if I go to those voters and plead our case, I am sure they will come out again,” Yarbrough said. “I’m taking a $75,000 to $80,000 gamble here.”

Yarbrough’s surprise second-place showing in the Democratic primary in May has sparked suspicions that voters thought he was related to former Texas politicians with similar names such as former U.S. Sen. Ralph Yarborough. Sadler said some Democrats that voted for Yarbrough during the primary have told him as much. Yarbrough notes that his name didn't seem to help him in three earlier bids for statewide office.

Although the two races are drawing dramatically different levels of interest, both have turned on whether the voters should value legislative experience.

Sadler says that only those who have held elected office are qualified to join the Senate. Dewhurst does not go quite as far but stresses his history of passing budgets and cutting taxes.

“You could argue that there’s not that much difference between us other than that I’ve done all the things Cruz says that he wants to do,” Dewhurst said.

Both Cruz and Yarbrough dismiss “career politicians” as being part of the problem in Washington.

“All over the country, Americans are fed up with the same tired, establishment incumbents that don’t believe in anything,” Cruz told voters in Willis this month. “There is a tidal wave sweeping this country as Americans are looking for new leaders who will stand and fight and get back to the Constitution.”

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