THE WOODLANDS — Sarah Palin told a cheering crowd late Friday that America needs to get back to its “clinging to God and guns” roots, as the tea pea party’s biggest names made a series of last-minute, high-profile appearances around Texas to support insurgent conservative U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz.
The former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate spoke to more than 1,000 boisterous and sweating Cruz supporters gathered under a mercilessly early-evening sun on a grassy knoll in The Woodlands, a well-to-do Houston suburb. She told them that “to make America great, we don’t need a fundamental transformation, we need a fundamental restoration.”
“Fighters like Ted Cruz can lead the charge for us,” Palin said.
Cruz, the former Texas Solicitor General, is locked in a fierce and increasingly nasty battle with the mainstream Texas GOP choice, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, for the Republican nomination to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The pair face a runoff Tuesday because neither won a majority in a nine-Republican senatorial field during the state’s May 29 primary.
Palin jokingly called Texas “Alaska’s little-sister state,” and said that President Barack Obama and defenders of politics-as-usual “believe they are smarter than you are.” She said the tea party is unapologetic in its pro-religion, pro-Second Amendment and anti-abortion convictions — adding that the grassroots tidal wave that began two years ago is just getting started.
“And 2010 was just a step in that long march towards that real reform we need. Texas will you keep fighting?” she asked. The crowd bellowed: “Yes!”
Palin noted that Texas Gov. Rick Perry previously gave her the black boots that she was wearing on stage Friday to match her black top and black skirt, saying: “At least, in one case, he made a good decision.”
That was a reference to the governor’s endorsement of Dewhurst, who has overseen the Texas Senate since 2003. When her mention of Perry drew only light applause, Palin added: “We’ll all be a team again once this is over,” suggesting that Texas conservatives will move quickly to mend a large and growing rift that the Cruz-Dewhurst contest has opened within the state’s Republican Party.
Wearing jeans and a broad smile, Cruz introduced Palin, calling Obama a “clueless, out-of-touch, socialist” and saying that “the tea party movement is fundamentally about accountability.”
Also appearing at the rally was South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who predicted a Cruz landslide and said it would shock traditional Republicans as much as Democrats.
“Tuesday night, when they find out what happened here in Texas, Republican leaders in Austin and in Washington aren’t going to sleep very well,” DeMint said, referring to the state capital.
It was DeMint’s second appearance with Cruz on Friday. He spoke alongside the candidate earlier in the day in Dallas, along with fellow tea party voices in the U.S. Senate, Mike Lee of Utah and Kentucky’s Rand Paul.
During the Dallas event, Cruz again criticized a Dewhurst circular that puts his face in front of a Chinese flag — a reference to Cruz’s Houston-based law firm’s representation of a Chinese company in an intellectual property dispute with an American manufacturer.
“I observed that for a long time, it has been considered the very basis of gutter politics to impugn another candidate’s patriotism,” Cruz said in Dallas. “That ad was a blatant falsehood.”
He accused Dewhurst of “flooding the airwaves” with attacks, including ads about his past legal work for a Pennsylvania developer embroiled in a judicial corruption scandal.
Paul, the son of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Lake Jackson, Texas, said he didn’t know Dewhurst but didn’t like the ads he had seen. “That disqualifies you from office,” he said.
Dewhurst spokesman Matt Hirsch countered that Cruz had run “a relentlessly negative campaign from Day One.”
“Ted Cruz is now using his D.C. supporters as a shield to hide from the fact he chose to represent American job killers,” Hirsch said in a statement. “Texans know that David Dewhurst has produced conservative results, and that is why they are politely telling the D.C. insider crowd to shove it.”
Dewhurst was campaigning in Tyler in East Texas on Friday, but a group of veterans supporting the lieutenant governor gathered in The Woodlands prior to Cruz’s event to voice their support for him.
Tea party groups have targeted Dewhurst as too moderate. While the lieutenant governor has overseen some of the most conservative legislative sessions in Texas history, he has also occasionally compromised with Democrats on key bills.
To finance his campaign over the last two weeks, Dewhurst has loaned his campaign an additional $8 million, bringing the total spent from his own pocket to $24.5 million. Texas has 20 media markets, making it one of the most expensive states in which to mount a major campaign.
According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Dewhurst wrote four checks to his campaign since July 13. He had already loaned it more than $16 million. Cruz, meanwhile, has gotten millions from national conservative groups, including the anti-tax Club for Growth, based in Washington.