Texas Senate Hopefuls Woo Republicans Of All Stripes

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It's high noon in Texas at the Stephenville Community Center out on Highway 67, and the Cross Timbers Republican Women's Club Candidates Forum is about to begin.

Time has run out on this Republican Senate primary. This is a last chance for the candidates to make an impression before Tuesday's vote. They're vying to replace Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is retiring after serving for nearly 20 years.

First up: former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. "Why, it's great to be with you, and I appreciate the opportunity," he tells the crowd. "We are at the cliff, and the clock is running. We have a president who has turned his back on the Constitution."

If the latest polls are accurate, Leppert is currently running a distant third behind Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant.

Dewhurst, the front-runner, is the GOP establishment candidate, backed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Cruz is courting the Tea Party vote, so Leppert has positioned himself as the businessman who knows how to balance a budget.

"As mayor of Dallas, we did some pretty unusual things," he tells the group. "We reduced the civilian workforce by 20 percent."

But this is West Texas, and while they applaud the former Dallas mayor's speech politely, they're looking for redder meat than budget talk. Cruz serves it up within seconds of stepping to the microphone.

"Barack Obama is the most radical president this country has ever seen," Cruz says. "And the unhappy truth is, as bad as Obama's been, he didn't invent spending. It was a bipartisan problem long before he got elected."

Around the room, heads bob in agreement. The proposition that President Obama is a radical socialist is accepted fact with this group. But when Cruz says that Republicans are equally to blame for the debt problem, heads bob just as emphatically — the room believes that's true, too. In two deft sentences, the former solicitor general has positioned himself outside both parties as the only real conservative with a chance to win.

"From Ed Meese to Phyllis Schlafly to Dr. James Dobson to the five strongest conservatives in the U.S. Senate — Jim DeMint, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey and Tom Coburn — every one of them is united behind this campaign. If conservatives continue to unite — and I ask for your help — we're going to win this race," Cruz says. "And when we win this race, Texas will lead the fight."

Three hours south geographically and a million miles away culturally, in Austin, Texas, the Scholz beer garden is packed for Dewhurst.

It's a completely different Republican crowd: Mercedes-Benzes parked outside, not F-150s. No iced tea or folding chairs; here, there's a tight band, expansive bar and well-coifed, good-looking Texas women laughing as they drink.

There's power gathered in this room, and the front-running lieutenant governor is pleased.

"Wow, what a great crowd. It's amazing what beer will do. It really is," he says, to cheers.

There's no need for Dewhurst to dish red meat here — this crowd isn't interested in getting the U.S. out of the United Nations; they're building relationships and having a beer. Nevertheless, the candidate runs through his reasons for seeking the Senate like a tired runner approaching the finish line.

"I'm running for the United States Senate because on Day 1, I want to push for the repeal of Obamacare. I'm running for the United State Senate because I want to keep America strong, and I'm tired of the federal government not doing their job. We need to secure our borders," he says.

While Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum have endorsed Cruz, Perry and a whole host of other Texas Republicans are behind Dewhurst. If the lieutenant governor can't get 50 percent of the vote Tuesday, there will be a two-man runoff in late July.

Oh, yes, the Democrats are having their Senate primary election, too. The experts say someday the Texas Democratic Party will rise again to challenge Republicans for control of the state. But that future is not yet here.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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