The Tea Party's next big target: Texas

Republican Senate candidate Ted Cruz
Republican Senate candidate Ted Cruz

In the wake of Richard Mourdock's Tea Party-propelled victory over Richard Lugar in the Indiana Senate primary on Tuesday, the Tea Party is now shifting its focus to the next big battle on its agenda: The Texas primary on May 29.

That race features the man who Tea Partiers see as the potential breakout candidate of the 2012 cycle: Ted Cruz, the 41-year-old former Solicitor General competing in the crowded Republican Senate primary. Brendan Steinhauser, Director of Federal and State Campaigns for Tea Party-aligned group FreedomWorks, told Hotsheet last year that he sees Cruz as "the biggest Tea Party rock star in the class of 2012," and his organization has been working hard on his behalf.

Cruz - whose calls for auditing the Federal Reserve, eliminating the IRS and significantly reducing the size of government have brought him the support of Ron Paul - is seeking the seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. His toughest competition appears to be the wealthy and well-known Texas Lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst. Which is why the Club for Growth PAC, which backed Mourdock and is backing Cruz, today announced it was spending $1 million on an ad characterizing Dewhurst as a moderate tax raiser. The spot doesn't mention Cruz, but encourages voters to "vote against Dewhurst on May 29th." (See at left.)

Cruz, whose father moved from Cuba to Texas at age 18, also has the support of the Tea Party Express. Many of his backers see him as the second coming of Marco Rubio, the Tea Party powered Florida senator being discussed as a possible running mate for Mitt Romney. If Cruz comes in second and can keep Dewhurst below 50 percent on May 29, there will be a runoff between the two men, giving Cruz more time to rally Tea Party support nationwide. (Dewhurst has been running attack ads against Cruz in an attempt to keep that from happening.)

With Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah looking likely to survive a Tea Party primary challenge, the Texas race offers the best opportunity beyond the Indiana race for the movement to assert its continued relevance in the face of perceptions that it has lost steam following the 2010 midterms.

FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe argues that Mourdock's victory "will re-ignite the spark of the 2010 midterm elections and energize the movement across the nation" on behalf of Cruz and other candidates favored by the Tea Party movement. The Indiana results, he said, reflect "just one more example of the hostile takeover of the Republican Party that we've been working on since 2009."

If Cruz and Mourdock make it to the Senate, they will join five senators with clear Tea Party ties: Kentucky's Rand Paul, Utah's Mike Lee, Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, Kansas' Jerry Moran and South Carolina's Jim DeMint, who generally prefer the confrontational stance embraced by Mourdock to the more collegial posture favored by Lugar.