THE WOODLANDS – Standing on a stage in the middle of a park facing a crowd of more than a thousand supporters of former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin smiled and pointed at the black boots on her feet.
“You know who gave me these boots?” she asked sweetly. “Your governor.”
The crowd cheered. Then Palin delivered the punch line.
“At least in that one case he made a good decision,” she said.
It was the most overt reference to what has emerged as the dividing line in this intense July 31 Republican runoff to replace U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is retiring.
A large group of Republican leaders in state government are backing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, while a bevy of the country’s best-known conservatives are rallying around Cruz.
The two factions have traditionally been on the same side. Palin even spoke at a similar rally in favor of Gov. Rick Perry’s re-election bid in 2010.
Now members from each side are openly dismissing each other as politically irrelevant in Texas.
As the laughter subsided, Palin qualified her jab at Perry, who is backing Dewhurst, by adding, “We’ll be a team after this is all over again.”
Other speakers at the rally reinforced the notion, insinuated by Palin, that those opposed to a Cruz victory in the runoff were also at odds with the Tea Party movement as a whole.
U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican and a Tea Party favorite, listed Senate race upsets of the past two years, including the victories of Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Rand Paul in Kentucky and Marco Rubio in Florida.
“We the people have taken back our government, and you’re seeing it in this election too. … The establishment picked their candidate — Austin, Washington. It was a done deal,” said DeMint, who predicted a “landslide victory” for Cruz that could only have happened under “the new political reality.”
Cruz spent most of his speech criticizing President Obama but briefly referenced Dewhurst.
“My opponent thinks a big, big checkbook can buy this race,” Cruz said. “Let me tell you, nobody is going to buy this U.S. Senate seat. This race has been a testament to the power of grassroots.”
Hours before the rally, the Dewhurst campaign released an endorsement letter signed by 18 of the Texas Senate’s 19 Republican members. The letter described Dewhurst as “the right conservative to bring the Texas model to Washington, and get America back to work.” The campaign also released a new web video called "Welcome to Texas" that highlights Dewhurst's record, and spokesman Enrique Marquez issued a statement accusing "Washington insiders" of coming to Texas to "rewrite Texas' history of conservative values and principles."
While many attendees at the Cruz rally said they prefer how the Texas government is run compared to the federal government, no endorsement could get them to strongly link Dewhurst to the state’s success.
David Maudlin, from the town of Cut and Shoot, called Texas “a solid state” but remained suspect of Dewhurst’s role in keeping it that way.
“I think he’s been in a good position to take credit, but he hasn’t really effected the change,” Maudlin said.