Texas Senate Primary Hits Final Stretch

PHOTO: Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Texas Ted Cruz speaks to the CPAC meeting, held by the American Conservative Union in Washington on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2010.

It's been 19 months and tens of millions of dollars in the making, but the Texas Senate primary between former State Solicitor General Ted Cruz and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is finally nearing its end.

Next Tuesday the two candidates face off in a runoff race for the GOP nomination for the Senate seat left open by Kay Bailey Hutchison's retirement.

When Hutchison announced her decision to retire in January 2011, Dewhurst seemed the likely replacement. The longtime lieutenant governor had the experience, name recognition and money necessary to run in the Lone Star state. But as was the case for many other seemingly shoo-in nominees before him, a Tea Party challenger emerged and the race became competitive.

WHAT TO KNOW
  • Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst face off on Tuesday in a close, expensive fight for GOP nomination in Texas Senate race

The challenger was Ted Cruz, the former state solicitor general and a rising Tea Party star who has received the backing of such major national conservative politicians as Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin. Cruz, 41, is young, charismatic and part Hispanic, characteristics that have led to comparisons with another rising Tea Party star, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

Cruz and Dewhurst initially faced off in May in the state's Republican presidential and congressional primaries. But Texas' election bylaws stipulate that candidates must receive at least 50 percent of the vote to win the nomination. Since neither Dewhurst nor Cruz hit the 50 percent mark in May, amid a primary field that included several other candidates, they face a final runoff on Tuesday.

The race has been brutal at times. Dewhurst and Cruz have hit hard and consistently at each other for months. The race also stands out as the most expensive Senate race in the country so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. More than $37 million has been spent, the vast majority of which has come from Dewhurst. Dewhurst spent $11 million of his own money -- part of a fortune he amassed from his energy company, Falcon Seaboard -- on the campaign out of a total of $19 million spent.

Cruz has raised and spent considerably less, taking in about $8 million and spending about $7 million. However, what Cruz has lacked in finances he will probably make up for in star power. Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint, Glenn Beck and Rick Santorum will all be campaigning on Cruz's behalf this weekend. Although Palin has backed several candidates in this election cycle -- Richard Mourdock in Indiana, Deb Fischer in Nebraska, Orrin Hatch in Utah -- all of whom went on to to win their respective Senate primary races, she hasn't been out on the trail that much.

The race is expected to be close, but so was Deb Fischer's race in Nebraska, and Palin didn't turn out to campaign for her. Palin's stumping for Cruz speaks to the star power the young candidate has amassed.

The candidate who wins the nomination will almost definitely go on to win the Senate seat in this deep red state.

A Dewhurst victory, however, would be seen as a blow to the Tea Party in a year in which candidates affiliated with the movement have had mixed results. A Cruz victory would be interpreted as a sign that the Tea Party is still going strong and turning out the type of victories it did in 2010.

ABC News' Shushannah Walshe contributed to this report.

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