KERRVILLE — The two Republicans still running for U.S. Senate entered a crowded hotel ballroom deep in the heart of the Hill Country on Friday and politely shook hands.
The niceties ended there as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz took turns advertising themselves as the only “fighter” in the race, a label both campaigns are furiously working to claim as their own.
The two men delivered back-to-back speeches to more than 150 people at a meeting of the Republican Women of Kerr County. Dewhurst spoke first.
“What I learned from my dad was service to country and the heart of a fighter,” Dewhurst said. “I’m a real fighter.”
He urged the roomful of Republicans to support the candidate “who has a record of doing the right thing, not just saying the right thing.”
Dewhurst pointed to all the conservative bills Republicans have passed in Austin since he became lieutenant governor in 2003. He said he deserved credit for making sure those landed on Gov. Rick Perry’s desk.
“Every conservative victory I’ve had, I’ve had to bleed and carry over the goal line,” Dewhurst said.
He told reporters afterward that Cruz's work defending Texas in federal courts as solicitor general , a central plank of Cruz's campaign, was not the kind of “fighting” experience Republican voters should be looking for in a U.S. senator.
“If I hadn’t in each case, in virtually every case, been cut up, bruised, beat up and passed this legislation, it never would have been in controversy in the Supreme Court,” Dewhurst said. “We hire lawyers. Someone’s got to be a leader to pass this legislation.”
Though the audience applauded Dewhurst several times, Cruz drew a more enthusiastic response.
“Do we need a fighter?” Cruz asked the crowd.
“Yes,” a few in the room shouted back.
As he reviewed several politically charged cases he argued in front of the Supreme Court and won, the applause grew successively louder each time Cruz revealed how the justices ruled.
“We went to the Supreme Court and we won 5-4. … We went to the Supreme Court. We won unanimously. … We defended U.S. sovereignty and we won 6-3,” Cruz said.
Those cases, Cruz said, show why he is the real “fighter” in the race.
“It’s the record of a strong conservative fighter because there’s never been a time where we’ve had a greater need in Washington for a strong conservative fighter,” Cruz said.
Both candidates said the winner of the July 31 runoff will depend on who can turn out more supporters for an election in the middle of the summer.
Cruz said that gave his campaign the edge.
"The fabulous thing about the runoff is the voters that will show up and decide in a runoff are the conservative grassroots activists,” Cruz said.
Dewhurst said he is encouraged by all the voters he hears from who originally supported one of the other seven candidates in the Republican primary and are now supporting him.
"I want to turn out my conservative voters, which I think outnumber his," Dewhurst said.