Feature:Opinion

How Ted Cruz did it

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Matt Mackowiak
Founder, Potomac Strategy Group
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      Matt Mackowiak

      Matt Mackowiak is a Washington, DC and Austin, TX based political and communications professional and founder of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC, providing political consulting, public and media relations and crisis communications assistance to campaigns, companies, organizations and individuals. In nearly a decade in Washington, DC, he has served in high-level Senate, executive branch, campaign, and private sector environments and has developed a wide range of deep relationships with national, state and local media.

      In addition to offering counsel to political figures and corporations, Matt provides political analysis for the Fox News Channel, ABC News, MSNBC, radio stations throughout the country. Matt’s political analysis has appeared in Politico, the Washington Times, the Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg News, The Hill, Congressional Quarterly, the Washington Examiner, the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, Texas Weekly, and on ABCNews.com and he has had columns published in the Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Politico, Roll Call, Austin American-Statesman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Des Moines Register, National Review online, Congressional Quarterly and The Daily Beast. Matt has guest lectured at the University of Illinois, the University of Denver, and American University. He has addressed student organizations at Georgetown University, Catholic University, the University of Illinois, Texas Christian University, and American University.

      From 2005-2009 Matt served as Press Secretary to U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and former U.S. Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT). From 2003-2005 he worked in press at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under Secretary Tom Ridge and Under Secretary Asa Hutchinson, managed the second largest county in Iowa for the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, counseled corporate clients at the international PR firm Burson-Marsteller, and performed White House Presidential and Vice Presidential advance representation all over the country.

      Matt is from Austin, Texas and graduated in 2003 with a B.S. in Communications Studies (Political Communication track) from the University of Texas (UT). Aside from his professional work, he owns and manages the popular blog site www.potomacflacks.com, recently cited by the Washingtonian as one of the best political blogs. In his free time, Matt enjoys sports, live music, UT Athletics and reading biographies.

Tea party insurgent Ted Cruz’s thrilling and improbable victory over Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in Texas’s GOP Senate primary provides a model for future long-shot candidates to follow, though repeating what Cruz did will be difficult.

A long line of dominoes had to fall, in the precise order that they did, for Cruz to overcome an opponent who had every advantage a political candidate can have.

Dewhurst had unlimited financing (he spent at least $19.9 million of his own money), universal name recognition, unanimous support from the Austin political establishment and massive political power as the leader of the Texas Senate.

Ted Cruz had courage, wisdom and a hunch.

When Cruz’s eventual campaign manager told me in early 2011 that the former Texas solicitor general would likely run for retiring U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat, I scoffed at the idea. The race was beyond his reach, he couldn’t raise enough money, he had never been on the ballot before, other likely candidates possessed statewide name recognition and Cruz’s Hispanic surname would hurt him in a Republican primary.

But Cruz and his team were undeterred by the naysayers. They went to work.

In Texas, if a primary candidate wins less than 50% of the vote, the top two primary candidates advance to a runoff. Cruz’s biggest insight was that he could win a runoff against Dewhurst; the hard part would be making it to the runoff.

Cruz set out to build the largest grassroots army in Texas history, believing that passionate supporters would act as force multipliers.

But first he needed help.

In politics, the shape of the field determines the race. Cruz needed to become the consensus conservative candidate in order to make it a one-on-one race against Dewhurst, so he could nationalize the campaign. When it began, four candidates sought the conservative mantle: Cruz, Railroad Commissioners Michael Williams and Elizabeth Ames Jones and former Secretary of State Roger Williams. Cruz came out ahead by outworking and outperforming his competition.

Early on, Cruz won the support of the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks (and later the Tea Party Express), whose outside efforts would prove critical later. He unexpectedly raised significant money (about $1 million every three months), a task made more difficult by the large, unsettled field.

Conservatives gradually lined up behind Cruz, giving him momentum and forcing the other conservative candidates to drop out. By the filing deadline, Cruz was the only tea party candidate in the race.