Texas is ground zero for the Tea Party.
Until the votes are counted and the race is settled Tuesday night, Texas' Republican runoff for U.S. Senate is the Tea Party's chosen battleground.
Many of the movement's leaders want to show they are still strong enough to take on the party establishment, and they're flooding into Texas this weekend to campaign for former Solicitor General Ted Cruz against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the runoff for the seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison.
A slate of high-profile Tea Party leaders -- including conservative GOP Sens. Jim DeMint, Mike Lee and Rand Paul as well as former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Denton -- gathered at the American Airlines Center Thursday night.
"The entire country is watching Texas next week," said Ryan Hecker, chief operating officer of FreedomWorks for America, a national anti-tax grassroots group that hosted the event called FreePAC.
Electing Cruz "will lead to a tidal wave across the country," he said. "We have an opportunity across the country to not just win the Senate...but (to elect) a fiscally conservative majority of the majority."
That's why Hecker said "we have people calling in from all over the country to help Ted Cruz." DeMint, a South Carolina Republican senator, said, "You're going to see, I think, on Tuesday that the Tea Party is still alive."
And more Tea Party reinforcements are heaidng to Texas. Tonight in Houston, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former GOP presidential nominee Rick Santorum will be among those appearing at a Houston rally for Cruz.
Combs backs Dewhurst
Dewhurst's campaign staff said it's no surprise that Cruz has out-of-state supporters.
But they noted that this is a Texas race. And that's why Dewhurst touted a new endorsement Thursday -- from Texas Comptroller Susan Combs.
"Ted Cruz has relied on out of state support for his entire campaign, so it's no surprise they're rallying for him in the final days of the campaign," said Matt Hirsch, a Dewhurst spokesman.
"In contrast, David Dewhurst is campaigning with Texans and talking about issues that matter to voters here in the Lone Star State. While Ted Cruz would go to Washington and serve at the pleasure of the special interests supporting his campaign, David Dewhurst will go to Washington to serve the people of Texas," Hirsch said.
State Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, who founded the Senate's Tea Party Caucus, threw his support behind Dewhurst Thursday because he considers the lieutenant governor "qualified based on the job he has done in Texas helping us pass the most conservative legislative package in the nation."
The winner of the GOP U.S. Senate race will face the winner of the Democratic Party's Senate race -- either former state Rep. Paul Sadler or Grady Yarbrough -- in November, to determine who will replace Hutchison in the Senate.
Today is the last day of early voting for Tuesday's election.
When this Senate race kicked into high gear last year, political analysts expected Dewhurst, the candidate with the most name recognition and most personal dollars to fund a campaign, to easily capture the Republican Party's nomination for the job. Cruz, a Houston lawyer, forced a runoff election and some recent polls show him ahead of Dewhurst.
Grassroots activists say the tides have turned since the May 29 primary, where Dewhurst picked up 44.6 percent of the vote in a nine-way GOP race, to Cruz's 34 percent.
Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin said this Senate race is critical for the country.
"This is about sending a message," she said. "Ted Cruz doesn't just talk the talk.
"He has fought for the conservative movement and he has fought for conservative principles. He lives it, he breaths it and he will help reinforce it."
Cruz told thousands of supporters in Dallas Thursday night that chief among changes he'd like to bring to Congress is repealing the nation's healthcare plan.
The fact that the Supreme Court didn't rule it illegal, he said, was "a tragic decision."
"As sad a day as that was for liberty, that was a shot heard round the world," he said. "That decision was like gasoline on a fire."
"That decision made clear that the fate of Obamacare isn't going to be decided in a court of law," he said. "It is going to be decided ... at the ballot box and by 'we the people.'"
Thursday's rally was one of several events in the three-day Restoring Love program hosted by conservative radio and TV host Glenn Beck.
Armey, who leads FreedomWorks, said a key to making change is backing presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
"Gov. Romney can't get elected without us," he said. "We must understand we cannot afford to let him lose on his own.
"Even if we (dominate) the House and the Senate, don't underestimate the mischief a president can do on his own."
Burleson activist Maggie Wright was among the speakers who encouraged Texas voters to make it to the polls and voice their support for Cruz.
"I believe God had a hand in this election," she said. "If we had the election in March, David Dewhurst would be our senator."
Cruz didn't mention divine guidance, but he did say there is a "great awakening" is sweeping through the country.
"Millions of Texans, millions of Americans, are saying we are fed up with the same tired establishment incumbents," he said.
"... Give us new leaders who will stand and fight for liberty, who will defend the U.S. Constitution and who will stop spending money."
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