By Margaret Carlson
The purification of the Republican Party continues. Last night in Texas, underdog Ted Cruz, the state's former solicitor general, soundly defeated Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, the right-hand man of Governor Rick Perry, in a primary to fill retiring Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison's seat. Cruz won the runoff election with 57 percent to Dewhurst's 43 percent.
Cruz's campaign followed the template established by Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in his primary defeat of Republican Senator Richard Lugar in May: Find some instances of compromise in a conservative incumbent's long career, highlight them as proof of moderation and paint the guy as a squishy sellout. According to the Center for Public Integrity, Dewhurst spent $25 million of his own money. In addition, he had Perry's fundraising apparatus behind him. It was not enough.
Tea Party stars Sarah Palin, Grover Norquist and Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina added glitter to Cruz's campaign, but the real star was probably the Club for Growth. The anti-tax and anti-regulation group says it spent $5.5 million on independent expenditures, accounting for 83 percent of independent spending for Cruz. The Club for Growth, which also contributed to Lugar's defeat, no doubt believes its investment will pay off as another anti-government ally of DeMint joins the Senate.
Unlike previous darlings of the radical right such as Sharron Angle (Nevada), Christine O'Donnell (Delaware) and Joe Miller (Alaska), Cruz seems almost certain to win in Texas. And the same forces that deemed Dewhurst and Lugar too accommodating are now working their magic in Connecticut, where former Representative Chris Shays, a moderate, is running against self-funding wrestling magnate Linda McMahon in a contest to fill Senator Joe Lieberman's seat.
McMahon won a 2010 Republican primary for Senate but flamed out in the general election, losing to Democrat Richard Blumenthal. Republicans in Connecticut, as elsewhere, have moved further right since then. A Public Policy Polling survey released this week has McMahon leading Shays, 68 percent to 20 percent.
(Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow her on Twitter.)
Read more breaking commentary from Bloomberg View columnists and editors at the Ticker.-0- Aug/01/2012 18:33 GMT