You know things have changed when a Texas Republican attacks his primary opponent for being cozy with lobbyists and big-business donors.
The primary runoff for Texas’s open U.S. Senate seat has become another battle along the GOP’s major fault line: the Tea Party vs. K Street.
Former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz is the candidate of the GOP’s Tea Party wing. A poll last week, which found Cruz beating Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst 49 percent to 44 percent, showed Cruz dominating 71-26 among voters who identified as Tea Partiers — a bloc including two of every five likely voters polled.
Cruz’s financial support comes from the same sources that funded the 2010 insurgent Senate candidacies of conservative Republicans Rand Paul of Kentucky, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah in their primaries against establishment-backed Republicans.
The Club for Growth has spent $2.5 million helping Cruz. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund has put about $773,000 behind Cruz. FreedomWorks is backing Cruz to the tune of $350,000 already, according to data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Dewhurst has pointed to this flood of D.C. money to attack Cruz as the candidate of the Beltway.
Both candidates have their backers in D.C. Cruz’s corner is full of ideological conservatives who have made headaches for the leadership of both parties. Dewhurst’s corner is packed with lobbyists and the political action committees of major corporations.
Dewhurst has hauled in more than half a million dollars from business PACs, which is 33 times Cruz’s take from business PACs. K Street lobbying firms are siding with Dewhurst, too. The PACs of Greenberg Traurig, K&L Gates, McGuire Woods and other lobbying firms have donated to Dewhurst.
Late last year, Dewhurst held a reception at the townhouse of powerful lobbying firm Podesta Group. Last week, GOP lobbyist Rick Murphy threw a Capitol Hill fundraiser for Dewhurst. A Dallas Morning News reporter wrote of last week’s event: “Dozens of donors — many wearing nametags indicating they work for lobbying firms and government contractors, as is typical at high-dollar campaign events in Washington — filed out of the townhouse near the Capitol as Dewhurst schmoozed inside.”
One Dewhurst-supporting lobbyist in attendance told me, however, that the crowd was more “Texas-heavy” than K Street-dominated.
This crossfire about donors tells us something about the conservative base today. Attacking one’s opponent as being too close to Washington is a fine tradition in American politics, but attacking an opponent as too close to business and K Street is fairly new in the Republican world. Cruz is doing just that.
“Everyone who makes their living from continuing the government spending gravy train is supporting Dewhurst,” Cruz told me in a phone call.
Sure enough, Dewhurst’s donors include plenty of corporations whose lobbying agendas clash with today’s conservative agenda of free markets and lower spending.
The American Hospital Association has been the most consistent booster of Obamacare. The lobby group even filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing on the administration’s behalf regarding the individual mandate. AHA’s PAC gave $5,000 to Dewhurst. Other Obamacare backers whose PACs have funded Dewhurst this election include the American Medical Association, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline.
Dewhurst’s donor rolls also include bailout beneficiaries like the Mortgage Bankers Association and the National Association of Realtors. These groups might be whom Cruz was describing when he called some Dewhurst supporters “special-interest lobbyists who suckle on government.”
Even the energy companies backing Dewhurst aren’t exactly free-market cowboys. Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s PAC has given Dewhurst the maximum $10,000, while the company’s CEO, Aubrey McClendon, has personally given Dewhurst $5,000.
McClendon and Chesapeake, the nation’s No. 2 natural gas producer, spent $26 million in recent years funding the Sierra Club’s campaign against coal, which is the largest rival of natural gas in electricity generation. Chesapeake also contributed to the American Lung Association’s campaign for stricter regulations on coal-fired power plants.
In Texas, Chesapeake stood to benefit from government intervention in the energy sector — intervention Dewhurst supported. Dewhurst in 2011 pushed an energy bill, SB 15, criticized by the free-market Texas Public Policy Foundation, which likened it to a Colorado bill “evidently intended to increase demand for now-plentiful natural gas by suppressing demand for coal.”
The Wall Street bailout of 2008 and the perception of Obama as a crony capitalist have ignited the Republican base’s distrust of lobbyists and big business. That wave of distrust could drown Dewhurst in the July 31 runoff.