The Brief: Top Texas News for July 31, 2012

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst at a campaign stop outside a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Austin on July 30, 2012.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst at a campaign stop outside a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Austin on July 30, 2012.

The Big Conversation:

A race that months ago appeared decided may instead end today with an upset sure to propel Texas into the the national spotlight.

For that, credit Ted Cruz, the former state solicitor general, who seized on conservative grassroots support and a delayed primary to rise in the U.S. Senate race from scrappy underdog to, according to recent polling, front-runner.

Redistricting litigation that delayed the primary from March to May gave Cruz more time to assemble support, siphoning momentum from his opponent, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who in March looked likely to coast to victory.

Now, the media has already begun speculating what a Cruz victory in today's runoff would mean for the U.S. Senate. The same pundits have painted Cruz as the latest beneficiary of a resurgent Tea Party movement that has targeted establishment Republicans across the nation, including U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana, and has found a new locus in Texas.

 

But the Tribune's Ross Ramsey has a different take.

"If that story line were correct, the battle for the open U.S. Senate seat in Texas would have exposed a philosophical difference or two between former Solicitor General Ted Cruz and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst," he writes today. "The candidates would be talking about their differences on the Tea Party's primary issues — national spending, debt, taxes and the economy. It would be the Tea Party in this corner against the mainline Republicans in that one. Nothing of the kind is happening here."

Whatever the framing, a Cruz victory would jolt not only Dewhurst, who has injected millions of dollars of his own fortune into the race, but also the entire Texas political scene, many members of which had counted on Dewhurst to vacate his post.

The Dewhurst camp, however, still disputes Cruz's momentum. National Review reported Monday on internal polling from the Dewhurst campaign that shows the lieutenant governor 4 points ahead of Cruz, 48 to 44 percent. And as Dewhurst said Monday at a campaign stop: "I’m proud of our position in the polls. Our polls have us winning. They’ve had us winning all along, so I feel real good about tomorrow.”

Check out our election brackets to keep up with the state's 36 other runoff races. We'll be liveblogging results tonight on our home page. Polls close at 7 p.m.

Culled:

  • Though the Republican side of the U.S. Senate race has drawn the money and headlines, Democrats will also pick their U.S. Senate candidate today. And while former state Rep. Paul Sadler of Henderson appears likely to win over retired educator Grady Yarbrough, the Texas Democratic Party doesn't seem to want to take any chances. As Burnt Orange Report notes, though the party doesn't endorse, it has recently sent messages to Democrats highlighting the candidates' records and taking veiled swipes at Yarbrough. "We … find it problematic that one of the candidates has not filed the required federal campaign finance reports that would have disclosed where his funding is coming from," one message says in reference to Yarbrough, adding, "The same candidate has also twice run for office as a Republican and has taken positions that are more consistent with the platform of the Republican Party. When asked about his position on immigration, Yarbrough said that the Berlin Wall was 'pretty effective.'"
  • Former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez received a last-minute endorsement Monday from former President Bill Clinton, according to the San Antonio Express-News. In the Congressional District 23 runoff, one of the state's most heated Democratic contests, Rodriguez faces state Rep. Pete Gallego of Alpine, who has won the backing of San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro. Rodriguez called Clinton's nod an "important development in this race."
  • The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday in a Texas case that extreme heat in prisons can constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The case involved a 64-year-old former Texas inmate who suffered from dizziness, nausea and headaches while in prison due to extremely high temperatues. "This is a huge victory for all Texas prisoners," Scott Medlock, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project's Prisoners' Rights Program, said of the ruling. "Hopefully this decision will force [the Texas Department of Criminal Justice] to reconsider housing prisoners in such dangerous conditions."

"It’s good." — David Dewhurst's judgment of the Chick-fil-A sandwich he ate at a campaign stop Monday

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.