Senate candidate Ted Cruz looks to tea party base

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on May 7, 2012 at 7:21 PM

Updated Monday, May 7 at 7:57 PM

DALLAS — If U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz was hoping Monday's Tea Party Express event could give him a big boost against Republican opponent David Dewhurst, it likely fell short — at least regarding turnout.

Back in 2009, the tea party movement had huge momentum, and a September weekday Tea Party Express bus stop rally grew so large it jammed traffic in North Dallas.

On Monday, the Tea Party Express crowd was much smaller, leaving Cruz to hope that those not coming out will show up to vote for him in the Republican primary.

The Tea Party Express, a California-based political action committee, rolled into Dallas to support the former Texas Solicitor General in the Republican Senate primary.

"It is the passion of the men and women here today that is turning our country around," he told the midday rally.

Although passionate at this final stop of a Texas tour, there weren't many men and women there.

Polls show Cruz's support is growing, and strong enough to keep opponent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst short of the majority he needs to win the primary outright.

Cruz claims tea party supporters will be there for him. "This race is going to be a test of the importance of the grassroots," he said. "Can you just write a check and buy the race, which is what David Dewhurst is trying to do — or do the people decide?"

Cruz has criticized Dewhurst for attack ads airing against Cruz, and for also failing to attend more than 30 voter forums extending into last year.

A Dewhurst spokesman had this response:

"Ted Cruz's D.C.-based special interests have spent millions of dollars, including negative attacks TV to date. David Dewhurst has campaigned across Texas and enjoys strong support from conservatives in every sector of the state. His positive agenda and solid record will prove a winning combination."

As Cruz appeals to tea party voters, just how much tea party support is there for him?

When the Tea Party Express bus stopped in Dallas on September 4, 2009, a huge crowd that one estimate put at 2,500 showed up and stopped surrounding traffic.

Local activists like Katrina Pierson of the Garland Tea Party say many are active in policy and campaigns now, skip the rallies, and observers should not be deceived by the turnout.

"The rallies in the beginning were just an outlet for people to feel like they were involved in having their voices heard," she said. "But now that momentum has shifted into action."

Cruz hopes that action means pressure at the primary polls when early voting starts next Monday.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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