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Tea party drools over Ted Cruz, but can he survive Texas primary?

Ted Cruz is running for the US Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Huchinson, and in many ways he's the ideal tea party candidate. But his best hope Tuesday is to force a runoff. 

By Staff writer / May 29, 2012

Former Texas Solicitor General and US Senate candidate Ted Cruz addresses a crowd of about 20 supporters at a barbeque restaurant in Temple, Texas, on Saturday. Cruz and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst are the front-runners in a crowded field vying for the Republican nomination to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in Tuesday's Texas primary.

Will Weissert/AP

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Washington

For Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican Senate primary Tuesday is all about survival.

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Mr. Cruz, the former Texas solicitor general and a tea party favorite, is vying to succeed Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison.

To get there, he and Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert have to hold the front-runner and establishment favorite, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, under 50 percent of the vote Tuesday. That would force a runoff between the two top vote getters in two months time.

With polls showing Mr. Dewhurst hovering right under the 50 percent mark and with Cruz well ahead of Mr. Leppert for second place, the election could go a long way toward determining whether Cruz is remembered as a tumbleweed before the steel train of the Texas GOP establishment or, perhaps, the next tea party candidate to successfully hog-tie a seemingly unbeatable front-runner.

Cruz has an uphill battle even after Tuesday. According to a Public Policy Polling survey released last week, Dewhurst would merit 59 percent support versus 35 percent for Cruz in a mano-a-mano runoff.

But there are markers that Cruz could overcome even that steep polling cliff given his conservative bona fides and legion of tea party backers. If he is successful, he could be part of the wave of deeply conservative and uncompromising members of the House and Senate storming Capitol Hill.

The runoff

If Cruz survives to a runoff, some of his supporters who have not gone all-in on the race would have reason to open their checkbooks. Second, a runoff gives Cruz more time to introduce himself to Texas voters – as a former government lawyer who has never held an elected office, he’s way behind Dewhurst and Leppert in familiarity to most Texans.

And third, a runoff in the smothering heat of a Texas summer cuts back on voters with the least conviction – and if you support Ted Cruz, you’re probably willing to brave a lot more than a little sun to get to the ballot box.

A look at Cruz’s resume helps explain his appeal to tea party conservatives.

The son of a Cuban political refugee who came to Texas with $100 sewn into his underwear, Cruz was a master debater as an undergraduate at Princeton before an honors-filled tour at Harvard Law School.

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