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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fowl Play

I wanted to write about Ted Cruz's upset victory in the Republican primary runoff for U.S. Senate in Texas today, but the big news of the day seems to be this Chick-fil-A thing. This is my blog, however, so I'm quite content to post about the former. However, out of appreciation for Mike Huckabee and all the great Americans who stood for tolerance today by patronizing Chick-fil-A, I titled this post with the best, most a propos pun we could come up with after five minutes of brainstorming, and that will have to suffice for the other story.

Now, then, Ted Cruz is going to be the next U.S. Senator from Texas! Hooray!! That being said, our former state solicitor general's win last night over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was nothing short of remarkable; at one time, Cruz was polling as low as 1% in the Republican primary. I blogged a bit about his gradually rising wave of support back in May, after he finished a strong second to Dewhurst in the primary. It seems a tad inappropriate to describe his meteoric rise as "slow and steady", but that's what his poll numbers indicated, at least until this summer. After outperforming his poll position in the May 29 primary (winning 34% of the statewide vote to Dewhurst's 45%), Cruz shot up in the polls while Dewhurst sank; a Public Policy Polling survey put him ahead of the lieutenant governor, 49% to 44%, in mid-July, a stunning reversal of fortune for both men over a relatively short period of time. (59% of respondents in a PPP poll taken before the primary in May said that they would vote for Dewhurst if the race came down to a runoff between the two, while just 34% would support Cruz.)

So, what happened? The results of the PPP surveys provide some clues. In May, 61% of the 482 likely Republican primary voters PPP surveyed reported having a "favorable" opinion of Dewhurst; only 25% viewed him unfavorably. By July, the percentage of Republican primary voters in Texas who viewed Dewhurst favorably was down to 52%, while 33% of those polled had an unfavorable opinion of the former frontrunner. His favorability rating slid down slightly to 50% in the poll released Sunday, but his unfavorability was up to 39%. Cruz, meanwhile, actually enjoyed a decline in the percentage of voters who had an unfavorable opinion of him (something we don't often see), from 32% in May to 25% in July. (His unfavolrabe rating returned to 32% in the final PPP poll, but by then a clear majority of Texas Republicans viewed him favorably.) What's really impressive is the contemporaneous surge in Cruz's popularity; in the May poll, only 38% of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of him; in the survey results released Sunday, that number was 53%. So, to recap, in a little over two months, Dewhurst saw his favorable/unfavorable gap shrink from 36 percentage points to eleven, while Cruz saw his grow from six to 21 percentage points. This was likely the result of a combination of many different things, but I can tell you that I heard from or about a lot of voters who were motivated to vote for Cruz in the runoff because of the negative attack ads against him, especially one run by the Texas Conservatives Fund, a group I had never heard of before last month, in which some broad whose son allegedly committed suicide after his release from a for-profit juvenile detention center says, "Ted Cruz should be absolutely ashamed of himself." (It seems Cruz represented Robert Mericle, a real estate developer who was linked to a bribery scandal, in an unrelated civil suit.) One female voter, herself a mother of two, expressed her disgust not only for the gutter-politics tone of the ad but also at the woman's conspicuous failure to accept personal responsibility for her son's fate.

Cruz's victory is significant for a number of reasons, not least because winning the Republican primary for a stadewide race in Texas is tantamount to getting elected, but Dewhurst's defeat will likely also have consequences beyond this year. He'll likely never attain higher office; his win-at-all-costs strategy cost him almost all the goodwill he had built up with the Texas GOP, and the voters who supported Cruz in the primary aren't likely to forgive him--at least not anytime soon--for his vicious attacks and dishonest charges. He may win another term as lieutenant governor if he choses to run again, but he'll never be governor; if he tries to run, then the same forces that did him in this time will combine to defeat him again. He may not even run again; the man turns 67 years old this month, and his reputation has taken a considerable hit. As for me, I'm going to scarf down some waffle fries and upload that picture of me with Texas's next Senator to Facebook.

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