Ted Cruz, a political newcomer in Texas backed by Sarah Palin, defeated Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in the Republican primary runoff to replace U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is retiring.
Cruz got 56 percent to Dewhurst’s 44 percent, with 85 percent of the vote counted yesterday, according to results on the Secretary of State’s website. Cruz, a former Texas solicitor general, overcame poor name recognition to rally Tea Party groups and beat one of the state capital’s best-known leaders.
“We are witnessing a great awakening,” Cruz told supporters at a victory rally in Houston. “Millions of Texans and Americans are rising up to defend liberty and restore the Constitution,” he said. “We are rising up to take our country back.”
The victory may give Cruz, 41, a lock on becoming the state’s first Latino U.S. senator. No Democrat has won a statewide Texas vote since 1994. Palin, the former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008, told a rally near Houston last week that in Washington, Cruz would help “rein in our out-of-control government.”
Cruz thanked his supporters for raising support for him from 2 percent in voter polls when he began his campaign in January 2011.
“They said I couldn’t do it,” he said. “But you could. And you did.” He thanked “grassroots conservatives,” Republican women and Tea Party groups for their help.
Dewhurst, who pledged to “keep fighting,” told supporters in Houston: “We came up a little short this evening.”
If President Barack Obama wins re-election, Cruz would be “a real thorn in Obama’s side,” said Mark Jones, the political science department head at Rice University in Houston. “Cruz will be a vocal opponent of the president’s policies. He is extremely smart, very smooth. He’d be very comfortable speaking on Fox News, the Sunday morning talk shows.”
Should Republican Mitt Romney win the White House, “Cruz would hold his feet to the fire and do everything possible to hold conservatives to the most conservative principles,” Jones said.
During a primary campaign in which few policy differences emerged between the candidates, Cruz attacked Dewhurst as a “conciliator” who would make deals with Democrats. “I’m a fighter,” he said at a July 20 debate in Houston.
“Ted Cruz has a nice story, but it’s more that I’m voting against David Dewhurst,” Joe Mahoney, a retired business owner from Athens, an East Texas city of about 13,000, said before results were known. “He’s been a member of the go-along, get-along part of the Republican Party.”
“I think everyone has been trying to tell the Republican establishment, and the Democratic establishment, that we’re not happy with what they’re doing,” said Mahoney, an independent.
Hutchison and retiring Senate Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine, along with Indiana’s Richard Lugar, a Republican who lost a May primary, have worked across the aisle to forge compromises. Senator Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, backed Cruz and said in May that bringing him into the chamber would provide “conservative reinforcements” to efforts to balance the federal budget and repeal Obama’s health-care overhaul.
That message struck a chord with some voters.
“I’m a pretty liberal Republican,” said Jack Massey, a Houston lawyer who voted for Cruz. “But I’m very concerned about the budget, spending.”
DeMint, who the National Journal ranks as the Senate’s 10th most conservative Republican, supported 2010 newcomers Marco Rubio of Florida, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey and Utah’s Mike Lee in winning contests against more established members of their party. The Senate Conservatives Fund, a political-action committee led by DeMint, says on its website it invested almost $2 million to support Cruz.
DeMint’s PAC was joined by the Club for Growth, a Washington-based group whose Action PAC poured about $5.6 million into helping Cruz. Outside groups backing the candidate spent $8.36 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington.
The son of a Cuban immigrant father, who arrived in the state capital of Austin in 1957, and an American mother who was the first in her family to attend college, Cruz graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. He was Texas’s top appellate lawyer from 2003 to 2008. Governor Rick Perry, a Republican and the state’s longest-serving chief executive, entered that office in 2000. He backed Dewhurst in the runoff.
A resident of Houston, Cruz is a partner with Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP. Almost 38 percent of Texas residents are Hispanic and most -- 75 percent in 2010 -- support Democrats, according to Richard Murray, who teaches politics at the University of Houston. Rubio, a Florida Republican, is also a Cuban-American.
Dewhurst, 66, has led the Senate as lieutenant governor in Austin since 2003. The position gives him control of the legislative agenda in a chamber dominated by Republicans. He loaned $19.2 million of his fortune to his campaign, and was endorsed by law enforcement, agricultural and business groups. Outside organizations spent more than $5.7 million to aid him.
The win by Cruz sends a signal to “moderate Republicans” nationwide, according to Ross Baker, an expert on American politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
“Make sure your voting record passes muster with the Tea Party, or you’re in big trouble,” Baker said of that message, citing other primary victories by Republicans with positions similar to those taken by Cruz. Richard Mourdock, the Indiana treasurer who beat six-term incumbent Lugar, was backed by DeMint and the Club for Growth.
In a rebuke to Perry, just 16 percent of voters in a Public Policy Polling survey July 28-29 said they would be inclined to support a candidate backed by the governor, who withdrew from the Republican presidential primaries in January. Almost twice as many, 31 percent, said they would side with someone endorsed by Palin.
The runoff resulted after Dewhurst failed to win more than half the votes in the May 29 primary, picking up 45 percent in a field of nine candidates. Cruz finished second with 34 percent.
Cruz will contend for the Senate seat with former state Representative Paul Sadler, a Democrat, in the Nov. 6 general election.