The race is being watched nationally as a test for the tea party against well-entrenched Texas Republicans who arenâ€™t used to losing. Texas hasnâ€™t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. Whichever candidate wins Tuesdayâ€™s runoff will be an overwhelming favorite against the Democratic nominee in November for the right to replace retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Dewhurst, who once looked like a slam-dunk for the job, is now believed to be in a major fight after failing to win a majority in the nine-candidate GOP primary on May 29. He has overseen the Texas Senate from the powerful lieutenant governorâ€™s post since 2003 and has been endorsed by popular Gov. Rick Perry and much of the stateâ€™s Republican establishment.
Cruz is the son of a Cuban immigrant who has a fiery public speaking style that has fired up grassroots groups.
An Air Force veteran who also was stationed in Bolivia for the CIA, Dewhurst spoke Monday in San Antonio at one of the oldest Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in the country, flanked by Perry and Peter Holt, the owner of the cityâ€™s NBA franchise, the Spurs.
His voice cracked as Dewhurst described his father, Lt. Col. David H. Dewhurst, who was a World War II pilot who was home from the fighting when he was killed by a drunk driver when his son was just 3.
â€œThis is a crusade. My dad flew 85 missions. He didnâ€™t have a chance to fly his 86th,â€ the lieutenant governor said, close to tears. â€œLetâ€™s make this his 86th mission.â€
His comments came after retired U.S. Navy fighter pilot Jake Ellzey said at the same rally, â€œI dare Ted Cruz to come in to any VFW post anywhere in the state and talk about fighting.â€
â€œMr. Cruz, youâ€™re not a fighter because youâ€™ve never worn the uniform,â€ Ellzey said.
Asked if that was a fair assessment, Dewhurst said, â€œI agree with the commander.â€
â€œNormally, Iâ€™ve found in my life that the louder you speak, probably, the less of a fighter you are,â€ he continued. â€œAll the fighters Iâ€™ve had a chance and the honor to serve with didnâ€™t pat themselves on the back, were pretty humble men and women.â€
Cruz describes himself as the raceâ€™s only true fighter for conservative values. A spokesman for his campaign, James Bernsen, said Monday that Ellzeyâ€™s and Dewhurstâ€™s comments offended him as a veteran of the Iraq war.