Ted Cruz’s election was probably the biggest and most surprising victory of the 2012 campaign cycle. Before the election, the now national Republican star was a virtually unknown name on a national scale. He ran against Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in the primary for the seat of a retiring Republican senator, and spent the first part of his campaign running from out of state. Cruz’s accomplishment was remarkable and has left people in other states wondering how they can put similarly principled and outspoken conservatives into office.

Is there a Ted Cruz model? Cruz started out almost 45 points behind Dewhurst and gradually inched forward. His campaign gained steam when he received national Tea Party support as well as key endorsements across the right leaning political spectrum, from Mark Levine and Sarah Palin, to Ron and Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Jim DeMint, Mike Lee, and more. The Tea Party Express/FreedomWorks and Young Conservatives of Texas also endorsed him.

Even with that, neither Cruz nor Dewhurst got 50% of the votes in the primary. In Texas (and South Carolina) election law this calls for a runoff election, and the extra months gave Cruz the chance to pull yet more votes from Dewhurst. Few today would be surprised to know that Cruz won both debates, and those negative campaign ads against Cruz didn’t stick. Cruz’s statement that Dewhurst was a moderate, however, did, and Dewhurst could do nothing to counter it. For Cruz, a conservative in Texas, winning the primary was the most difficult part of the campaign, and he made no gaffes to lose the general election.

Essentially, Ted Cruz had the perfect combination of intelligence, principle, conservative credentials and a bit of luck. That’s hardly a model, but there is a lot that both candidates and constituents can learn from his campaign. His primary problem was name recognition. This is no small problem; countless studies have shown that name recognition is the most powerful factor in people’s voting. Simply put, a huge percentage of the population will simply vote for the person whose name they see as more familiar, and you can’t brand yourself as the true conservative if people don’t know who you are.

Initially Cruz was not the only person running for the position of “principled conservative” in the primary race. He had three other competitors for the title, with Dewhurst running as the establishment moderate. Cruz had to bring Dewhurst down to 49% of the vote and be the second place finisher. At that point, everyone who had supported the other candidates could shift their support to Cruz, who would win.

As for beating the other conservatives, Cruz outworked them and earned key endorsements from FreedomWorks and Club for Growth early on. Soon he had also been endorsed by leading Senate Conservatives and commentators, and had been put on the cover of the National Review. By the time the primary rolled around in late May (as opposed to March, which is Texas’s traditional primary month, another factor which worked in Cruz’s favor), Cruz’s opposition had dropped out of the race anyway.

The Tea Party showed in 2012 that it could win a primary better than any other organization in this country. It did not, however, show that it had judgment in its selection of candidates. There were cases nationwide in which the Tea Party saw its primary job as winning primaries, not general elections. The Tea Party name carries weight, though, and the convergence of Tea Party backing with Cruz’s intelligent, fearless and principled leadership was a powerful combination.

So what can people hoping to beat Lindsay Graham learn from Ted Cruz’s run?

  1. Choose candidates carefully – Cruz would not have won had he not been the person he is. He doesn’t back down from principles, and is smart enough to avoid making harmful statements. Both of those are important.
  2. Local Tea Party organizations must endorse wisely.
  3. Massive grassroots support can overcome incredible monetary obstacles, but it cannot stand alone. Press coverage, endorsements, and all forms of publicity must be aggressively sought. Without a combination of all those factors, money and initial name recognition will win.
  4. Run and vote in the primary to win the general election, not just the primary. This is even more important in South Carolina than Texas, where Republican candidates can more easily win statewide races. This does not mean sacrificing principle; it means finding someone sufficiently vetted to be reliable, and who can articulately and forcefully advocate such principles.

This seems like a simple and obvious list, but if Cruz’s run showed anything, if there is a “Ted Cruz model,” it’s that a well run campaign by a quality candidate means more than the models and statistics politics has been reduced to recently. To beat Lindsay Graham and win the general election, the people of South Carolina must do the hard work of choosing and supporting someone who can win.

If South Carolinians can find the right person, some factors will work in that candidate’s favor. Lindsay Graham won’t be able to beat a principled and intelligent opponent in a debate. The moderate label will again be detrimental. Sen. Graham is the epitome of an establishment moderate, no matter how many times he may claim to be a “Ronald Reagan conservative.” See his voting record here.

Furthermore, because Graham has been in the national spotlight for so long, with so much antagonism from the conservative base, it should not be difficult for an opponent to get necessary publicity and support. In this, a Graham opponent will even have an advantage Cruz didn’t, because conservatives nationwide are eager to help defeat Graham.

Choose the candidate wisely, stay involved on a grassroots level, seek all forms of publicity and endorsements, and campaign in a forceful, principled manner. Cruz won in part by being the candidate people nationwide have been waiting for, but there are more like him. It’s time to find them, support them, and start changing the country’s political direction.

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