An insurgent candidate backed by the conservative Tea Party movement convincingly defeated the Republican establishment favorite in Texas’ runoff US Senate primary election on Tuesday, capturing the Republican nomination to replace retiring US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.
The victory by former Texas state solicitor-general Ted Cruz who enjoyed the support of fiercely conservative voters over the mainstream Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst shook one of the country’s most staunchly Republican states to its political core.
The race had been closely watched nationally as one of the most-vivid contrasts between the Republican mainstream and grassroots conservative activists. However, as the results began to pour in, it turned out to be no contest. Cruz grabbed early leads in key cities around the state where -Dewhurst had once enjoyed stronger name recognition, fundraising and political organization.
“We are witnessing a great awakening,” Cruz told cheering supporters in Houston shortly after Dewhurst called him to concede. “Millions of Texans, millions of Americans are rising up to reclaim our country, to defend liberty and to restore the Constitution.”
More than 1 million Texans voted in the runoff, a surprisingly strong turnout for balloting that came during the middle of the summer.
Overseeing the state Senate from the powerful lieutenant governor’s post since 2003, Dewhurst was long considered a sure winner in his race with Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant. Dewhurst had the endorsement of much of Texas’ Republican mainstream, including Texas Governor Rick Perry, who despite his failed run for president is still popular back home. He also had a US$200 million personal fortune he could and did dip into at will.
However, Cruz has a fiery stage presence that appealed to supporters of the limited government, anti-tax Tea Party movement and received millions of dollars from national, conservative organizations which targeted Dewhurst as too moderate. He was endorsed by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and former and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, among other prominent conservatives.
“The message of this race couldn’t be clearer for the political establishment: the Tea Party is alive and well and we will not settle for business as usual,” Palin said via Facebook.
Even though the lieutenant governor oversaw some of the most-conservative state legislative sessions in Texas history, he also occasionally compromised with Democratic lawmakers to keep the legislative agenda moving.
Meanwhile, former Democratic state representative Paul Sadler easily bested perennial candidate Grady Yarbrough to capture his party’s nomination and face Cruz in November’s general election, but Cruz begins that race the overwhelming favorite. Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide since 1994.
The 41-year-old Cruz had never run for political office, but bolstered his political credentials by arguing in front of the State Supreme Court as the longest-serving solicitor-general in Texas history.
Cruz’s father, Rafael, is a pastor outside Dallas. He fought with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s rebels in Cuba before Castro took power and eventually embraced communism, and the elder Cruz fled to the US with nothing but US$100 sewed into his underwear.
Cruz’s victory follows that of Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock who defeated incumbent Senator Richard Lugar in that state’s Republican primary.