COMMENTARY | Once again, Sarah Palin has the power to influence political events. Witness the success Tuesday of former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz forcing a runoff for the U.S. Senate seat held by Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Cruz and David Dewhurst will fight it out in a runoff campaign that will last until July 31, according to the Austin American Statesman. The result of that race will likely be seen as a test of Palin's king-making ability.
Dewhurst still has a lot of advantages, including money, name recognition, and the support of much of the Republican establishment, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Cruz has the image of a tea party insurgent and the backing of such diverse personalities as Palin and erstwhile presidential candidate Ron Paul.
The Hill newspaper notes, however, that the Perry endorsement may actually be hurting Dewhurst. A Public Policy Polling survey suggests that while 24 percent of respondents say that the Perry endorsement would make them more likely to vote for Dewhurst, 28 percent say that it makes it less likely.
By contrast 36 percent of respondents say that the Palin endorsement of Cruz makes them more likely to vote for him while 21 percent say it makes them less likely to vote for him.
At the time of the Palin endorsement, the Cruz campaign noted a bump in phone calls and contributions, according to ABC News. Palin's support infused the Cruz campaign with a much needed injection of enthusiasm that served to counter Dewhurst's institutional advantages.
The question arises, can Palin help put Cruz over the top in July? She recorded a robocall for Cruz for the primary campaign, but she may need to do more. She may have to come down from her northern fastness into the summer heat and humidity of Texas and campaign for Cruz.
There is precedence for this. When Texas Gov. Rick Perry was challenged in the 2010 primary by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Palin endorsed Perry and came down to Texas to campaign by his side. Perry was thus easily able to turn back Hutchison's challenge and easily won a third term as governor.
If Cruz wins the runoff, he is odds on favorite to win the general election. The Democrats are not a factor in statewide Texas politics. Such an event would help cement Palin as a gray eminence of the GOP.