Ted Cruz couldn’t take it any longer. It was July 23, 2012. Houston. The final debate of the Republican runoff in Cruz’s bid for a seat in the U.S. Senate. The former Texas solicitor general had entered the race as a footnote, his polling in the low single digits, his political résumé extremely thin. Ted who? But over the course of 18 months, the little-known corporate litigator had caught fire with the Tea Party faithful, snagging endorsements from Sarah Palin and FreedomWorks, upending every expectation about his chances except his own. Now he stood on the cusp of one of the great upsets in Texas political history.
The debate moderator played a video question from a voter: “Why are they fighting so much?” Cruz turned to his opponent, three-term Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, a soporific millionaire who’d begun the race as the odds-on favorite but had underwhelmed and failed to avoid a runoff. As the summer had worn on and his numbers sagged, Dewhurst and his allies had tried to paint Cruz as a “D.C. insider,” a “conservative phony,” and a supporter of “amnesty for illegal immigrants.” Cruz had largely ignored Dewhurst’s salvos, though groups supporting his campaign had flung some insults about Dewhurst being a “Republican in Name Only.” But Cruz was particularly galled by his opponent’s latest hit. The week of the debate, a mailer had landed in mailboxes across the state — including that of Cruz’s father, Rafael — highlighting how Cruz, as an attorney, once defended a Chinese company accused of stealing blueprints from a U.S. manufacturer. The mailer branded Cruz a “D.C. trial lawyer” and accused him of lying about his work on the case. “Ted Cruz: Killing American Jobs, Deceiving Texans,” it read.