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U.S. Senate hopefuls in Texas can finally push ahead for primary

Excerpt

The following ran in the February 28, 2012, edition of the Dallas Morning News. Political Scientist Cal Jillson provided expertise for this story.

March 8, 2012

By Robert T. Garrett

AUSTIN — The delays to the Texas primary have tested the cool of Republican candidates for U.S. Senate.

But the judges’ decisions Tuesday mean that the candidates can finally sketch out their strategy for the May 29 primary, which is all but certain to decide who replaces Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

 Some of the GOP hopefuls say it’s good news that they have an extra eight weeks to whack at front-runner David Dewhurst. Still, he has many advantages, one expert argues.

 “You don’t really feel any movement out there,” said Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson. “The delay works to the advantage of Dewhurst because a lot of the donors are holding back; they’re not sure what the timing of things is. Dewhurst is already well-known and well-funded.”

 Former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert  and former ESPN broadcaster Craig James are the other main GOP candidates.

Some of their strategists said turnout on May 29 is likely to be low, consisting mainly of the most partisan and conservative voters — assuming the Republican presidential contest is largely settled by then.

“It’s very likely to be over,” Jillson said. “And people will be making their summer plans and thinking about a lot of other things.”

Spokesmen for the rival campaigns said Dewhurst could be vulnerable if the voters who most closely identify with the tea party movement are an outsized force in the primary. They tend to distrust incumbents, and Dewhurst has spent the last nine years as lieutenant governor, after four as state land commissioner.

A longer race also gives them more time to raise money for run television ads, a key component of a campaign in a state with so many big media markets.

UPDATE

Impact on presidential race

With the primary set for May 29, Texas will almost certainly be irrelevant in the GOP nominating contest. The state is a huge prize, with 155 delegates — more than 10 percent of what’s needed to clinch the nomination. But 43 states hold primaries before May 29. By then, only about 500 delegates will remain up for grabs.

If the nomination remains unsettled, which is unlikely, Texas could be decisive. Six states vote even later: California (172 delegates) and four others hold June 5 primaries. Utah (40 delegates) comes last, on June 26.

Todd J. Gillman