FORT WORTH (AP) - Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst addressed the Texas Republican Convention largely without boos Friday — a sign of unity in a powerful party still struggling with deep internal divisions.
The U.S. Senate candidate took the podium to warm applause and a partial standing ovation one day after some delegates launched into loud and prolonged boos as Gov. Rick Perry endorsed Dewhurst on the convention floor. When the crowd quieted, a few people cried “Cruz!” in support of Dewhurst’s opponent Ted Cruz, but they were quickly and forcefully shushed.
Dewhurst is competing with Cruz, a former state solicitor general and tea party favorite, for the Republican nomination to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. They face a runoff July 31 after no one in a crowded GOP field won a majority of the votes cast in last month’s primary.
A powerful lieutenant governor since 2003, Dewhurst is the mainstream Republican choice. He says that he has helped make Texas one of the most conservative states in the country, but also doesn’t apologize for sometimes working with Democrats to ensure key legislation is approved.
Many tea party groups have branded Dewhurst as too moderate. Ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint have endorsed Cruz.
Dewhurst trumpeted his conservative accomplishments in his speech at the Fort Worth Convention Center, saying he helped make Texas even more anti-abortion by defunding groups affiliated with abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, while also helping pass 51 tax cuts to businesses, homeowners and individuals.
He added that his record has even impressed hardcore conservatives, saying, “Tea party leaders know because last year, I helped cut $14 billion dollars out of our state spending.”
Dewhurst also stressed the importance of religion: “We know that whatever success that we’ve had in Texas is due to our deeply held conservative principles and the will to implement them and by the grace of the good Lord.”
Dewhurst spoke in his capacity as lieutenant governor, and is scheduled to address the convention again Saturday as a senate candidate — when Cruz will also give a speech.
The intraparty fight between Dewhurst and Cruz has laid bare divisions within the Texas GOP, pitting tea party activists against mainstream conservatives. Even though Dewhurst’s speech went off without a hitch, some of the discord seeped into the convention Friday when Hutchison’s address endorsed ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential bid.
“We have got a job to do. We have the job of electing Mitt Romney,” Hutchison said, drawing boos from Ron Paul supporters.
“The Democrats are trying to divide us. They are saying we’re not united behind Mitt Romney,” Hutchison continued.
“We’re not!” yelled a few dissenters.
Pressing on, Hutchison garnered cheers from most of the hall when he said, “It is time for us to rally around Mitt Romney!”
“We’re not distracted and we’re not divided,” Hutchison added. As she said that, a small group chanted, “Ron Paul!”
But a larger chant of “Romney! Romney!” eventually drowned it out.
Paul addressed the convention Thursday in a speech separate from the main general session. He called for party unity — but only behind defending the values of the U.S. Constitution.
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