A six-foot duck was waiting outside the door of the Austin Club early Thursday morning — a supporter of Ted Cruz in a funny costume there to goad Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst into more live appearances with Cruz, the former Texas solicitor general.
Dewhurst, supporters of Cruz say in their promotional materials, is ducking those events.
The lieutenant governor slipped in another door on his way to an interview with The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith in front of a live audience of about 200 people. Dewhurst is the front-runner in the race to succeed U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Cruz, former Mayor Tom Leppert of Dallas and Glenn Addison, an undertaker, are also after the Republican nomination — all trying to wiggle into the spotlight with Dewhurst, who was first elected to statewide office in 1998.
Cruz and his supporters are clamoring for Dewhurst to appear at debates and forums, small and large. Any room with a microphone and a gathering of Republicans, independents, Tea Partiers or reporters will do. Cruz wants the contrast to be made, and he wants the sorts of conflicts that draw the sort of news coverage that could make him known to voters. He, unlike Dewhurst and Leppert, has never faced the voters, and most voters have never heard of him.
For Dewhurst, appearing with Cruz offers a dubious opportunity to elevate the stature of someone who is trailing in the polls and to go toe to toe with a trained and dangerous legal advocate. For Cruz, who has argued several cases before the United States Supreme Court, a political debate is an easy layup.
Dewhurst said Thursday morning that he has already agreed to “at least one” debate. But he has been content so far, with one or two exceptions, to campaign on his own, raise money on his own and to make his pitch to voters on TV, where he started running his first ads last week.
He’s ignoring the opposition, driving some of them buggy. Cruz has been getting lots of support from insider Republican circles, including in Washington and New York and other spots outside of Texas. He has received a boost from bloggers and conservative activists. But to win in Texas, he has to raise enough money to get his message in front of hundreds of thousands of voters he’ll never meet.
The finance people have to believe in him, and they have to bet against a lieutenant governor and a former big-city mayor, both of whom have thrown millions in personal money into their races.
This works at other spots on the food chain, too. Addison has made relatively small purchases of radio time to run spots attacking Cruz, who he says isn’t the real conservative in the race. It’s his version of the six-foot duck, an effort to horn his way into a contest in which the other contestants won’t acknowledge his existence.
Leppert gives a nod to his opponents in his own TV ads — he says he’s neither a lawyer nor a career politician — but he doesn’t name them. His campaign is focused on jobs and on his experience as a businessman and a mayor. Addison’s commercials are all about Cruz. Cruz’s videos on the Internet — he’s not yet running commercials on radio or TV — are all about Dewhurst.
What’s Dewhurst doing? Running against Barack Obama, against Congress, against national health care and against federal spending.
Asked directly about the luminaries blessing Cruz as the true conservative in the race — people like George Will, David Barton, Sen. Jim DeMint, James Dobson and organizations like the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks — Dewhurst made a rare reference to Cruz, though not by name: “Some of my opponents may concentrate on Washington,” he said. “They’ve lived in Washington. They want to go back to Washington. I want to represent Texas.
“I’m not conservative enough, some say. They don’t know me. When they get to know me, they’ll know I am,” said he added, and then he launched back into his record in office and his swipes at Obama. No more about the opposition.
You’d think he was running against the president, which is not a bad idea in a state where the only thing more unpopular than Obama is Congress. Dewhurst isn’t talking about his opponents. He’s not talking with them, or joining them in debates and forums, though he’s willing to talk about the possibility.
He’s ignoring that duck, and hoping voters will, too.