FORT WORTH, Texas — 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 between traditional conservatives and tea party activists.
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 booed or yelled "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.
Lieutenant governor since 2003, Dewhurst is the mainstream Republican choice. He says 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 bills are approved by the Texas Legislature.
Tea party groups have branded Dewhurst as too moderate. Ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint have endorsed Cruz, as has former presidential candidate Rick Santorum.
Dewhurst trumpeted his conservative accomplishments in his speech at the Fort Worth Convention Center, saying he helped Texas defund groups affiliated with abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, while also helping pass 51 tax cuts.
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."
Cruz is set to address the convention this weekend, but as he headed to a Texas Republican Women's gathering nearby on Friday, he stopped to argue with Tarrant County delegate Sherri Heinzman and her 17-year-old daughter Sara. The two were waving Dewhurst signs and claimed Cruz was soft on opposing gay marriage.
Cruz responded that Palin and Santorum would not have endorsed someone who wasn't a true conservative — and he looked ready to keep talking, but was pulled away by an aide.
The intraparty senatorial fight has laid bare divisions within the Texas GOP— but it's not the only example. State House Speaker Joe Straus took the stage later Friday to sporadic cries of "Oust Straus!" Some delegates even walked out.
Straus took power in 2009 after forming a coalition between moderate Republicans and Democrats when the Texas House was almost evenly divided. After tea party members helped form a 101-49 supermajority two years later, conservative Republicans tried to depose Straus but failed.
Since then, grassroots groups have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to oppose Straus, and Republican state Rep. Brian Hughes of Marshall has announced his intent to challenge the speaker for the House leadership.
Still more discord was on display when Hutchison gave a speech 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.
Hutchison garnered cheers from most of the hall when she 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!" drowned it out.
Paul addressed the convention Thursday and called for party unity — but only behind defending the values of the U.S. Constitution.
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