LUBBOCK (AP) – U.S. Senate hopeful and tea party darling Ted Cruz said Tuesday that Texans’ love of freedom and their entrepreneurial spirit is like “America on steroids,” and that if West Texas values were spread across the U.S., they could solve the country’s ills.

The attorney and former Texas solicitor general spoke to about 75 supporters at an equipment sales and rental business in Lubbock, saying he needs campaign donations to keep Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst from winning the Republican primary on May 29.

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Cruz and Dewhurst are vying for the GOP nomination along with two other major candidates — former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and ex-football star and ESPN personality Craig James — to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. But Cruz said the contest is “effectively a two-man race.”

“The 2010 tea party tidal wave is still here,” Cruz said. “And I can tell you the political establishment in Austin let out a collective shriek of terror.”

When someone in the crowd yelled, “We need a bulldog!” Cruz responded, “I agree with you.”

“Enough of these little kitty cats we keep sending to Washington,” he said.

Dewhurst has spent more than $11.8 million and recently poured $6 million of his own money into his campaign. He wants to win a majority of votes in the primary to avoid a July 31 runoff that would feature the top-two finishers if one of them fails to win at least 50 percent of the vote.

Cruz has lent his campaign just $70,000 and spent more than $4.3 million.

Some conservative groups have branded Dewhurst, who has been lieutenant governor since 2003, too moderate. The anti-tax, Washington-based Club for Growth says it’s spending $2 million on ads against Dewhurst, while two prominent tea party groups — FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Express — are backing Cruz.

Dewhurst has responded by using television spots to chide Cruz for his law firm’s work for a Chinese tire company in its appeal against a judgment that it stole intellectual property from an American firm.

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On Tuesday, Cruz likened that effort to President Barack Obama’s ads attacking presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, saying “it’s distraction.”

The negative ads have crossed the line for some voters, including John Jones, who attended the Lubbock rally. “The acidic nature of (Dewhurst’s) attacks made me look at Ted Cruz,” the 54-year-old cotton farmer said.

But the Dewhurst campaign got a boost Tuesday with the endorsement of evangelical pastor Rick Scarborough, founder of Vision America. Scarborough said in a statement that the lieutenant governor’s “Christian faith and values have never wavered, and that is obvious from his last nine years serving Texas.”

Cruz’s West Texas campaign stop on Tuesday coincided with his campaign’s release of a new TV ad in which he details his father, Rafael, being imprisoned by Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista and fleeing to the United States. It makes no mention of the fact that the elder Cruz supported rebels backing Fidel Castro before Castro took power in 1959.

The ad says Cruz is “a proven fighter for liberty because his family knows what it means to lose it.”

Also Tuesday, Leppert unveiled his campaign’s fifth TV ad, again touting his experience running companies large and small before serving as Dallas mayor from 2007 to 2011. This time, Leppert appears with empty suits wearing buttons bearing the names of the other major GOP candidates.

Featuring limbs and shoes but no heads, the suit with a “Cruz” button folds its arms, while the Dewhurst one has a cellphone dangling near where its mouth should be, and the James character cradles a football, which is conspicuously fumbled at the end of the ad.

“I know how to cut spending, how to balance the budget, and I know how to create jobs. That’s the kind of conservative leadership that Washington needs right now,” Leppert says, adding that the nation’s capital doesn’t need “one more empty suit.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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