Traditionally, Texas has March primaries. But wrangling and a court battle over the state’s redistricting map forced election officials to move the primary to late May, with a runoff in the dog days of summer in late July, ultimately reducing turnout and giving Cruz more time to raise money and build momentum.
And Cruz’s momentum kept building. National Review put him on its cover, just as it had put Marco Rubio on its cover two years before. Syndicated columnist George Will wrote a glowing column in which he described Cruz as a candidate who was “as good as it gets.”
The five strongest conservatives in the U.S. Senate — Jim DeMint, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Pat Toomey and Tom Coburn — all endorsed him. Talk radio followed, with Mark Levin, Glenn Beck and eventually Sean Hannity endorsing Cruz.
This momentum forced two other potential candidates — Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and State Senator Dan Patrick — not to run, keeping Cruz as the only movement conservative in the field.
But there may have never been a runoff between Cruz and Dewhurst were it not for two crucial late developments. Ten days before the primary, Ron Paul endorsed Cruz, which brought Paul’s supporters into the fold. Then former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) endorsed him, bringing in a wave of invaluable earned media, small donor contributions and momentum. Those endorsements helped Cruz get enough votes in the May 29 primary to force a runoff. At that point, the race’s ultimate result was inevitable.
Two months later, on runoff election night, Cruz’s rabid volunteer base, outside support and huge momentum carried him to a crushing 13-point win.
Cruz is a once-in-a-generation candidate who ran a nearly flawless campaign in a favorable political environment. But he never should have been able to win. Indeed, as he has said to his supporters, “I alone could not win this race. But with your help, we could not lose.”
Matt Mackowiak is an Austin, TX-based Republican consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC. He has been an adviser to two U.S. senators and a governor, and has advised federal and state political campaigns across the country.