TAMPA, Fla. — Tea party favorite Ted Cruz took another big step Tuesday toward solidifying his image as one of the fastest-rising stars in the GOP, delivering a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention after his stunning Senate primary win last month.
The GOP’s decision to give the Texas Republican a coveted evening time slot reserved mostly for sitting governors and members of Congress also was a nod to the grass-roots movement that helped propel him to victory.
“What is happening is a great awakening,” Mr. Cruz told the thousands gathered in the convention area. “A national movement of ‘We the People,’ fueled by what unites us — a love of liberty, a belief in the unlimited potential of free men and women.”
Mr. Cruz refused to vilify President Obama personally, calling him “immensely talented and a man of deep convictions.” But the Texan then quickly warned that administration’s economy agenda is “perilous” and accused the president of using fear to divide the country.
Despite Mr. Cruz’s staunch support from the tea party — of which many of its activists have been slow to warm to nominee Mitt Romney, accusing him of being too moderate — the Texan applauded the GOP presidential nominee and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — for their pro-business, anti-tax platform.
“Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan understand that government doesn’t create jobs — entrepreneurs do,” he said.
Chris Davis, a delegate from Richardson, Texas, said Mr. Cruz’s energy is infectious and that he knows exactly how to stoke conservative sentiments.
“He’s an inspiring speaker, he gets it,” she said. “He knows that the power is in the grass roots. He’s tapped into that power and he’s leading that power right now.”
Mr. Cruz rocked the Republican establishment in Texas and nationwide when he crushed early race favorite Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in July’s runoff election for U.S. Senate, running a successful anti-establishment campaign after trailing in most polls until the late stages of the race.
The former Texas solicitor general still must beat former Texas state lawmaker Paul Sadler in November’s general election. But the Democrat faces a huge cash disadvantage and is a colossal underdog in the Republican-dominated state.
Mr. Cruz, 41, the son of a Cuban-American immigrant, received endorsements from tea party heavyweights such as former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint of South Carolina on his way to the primary win.
The primary race also was among the nation’s most expensive, as more outside cash — at least $14.6 million — flowed into the race than any in the nation this election cycle with the exception of the presidential contest, according to OpenSecrets.org, a nonpartisan website that tracks money in politics.
But Mr. Dewhurst addressed the Texas delegates Tuesday and pledged his support for Mr. Cruz, said delegate Darryl Pool of Williamson County.
“He was very gracious in commending Cruz on his victory and pledged to work with him,” Mr. Pool said. “There’s no sour grapes or any lingering problem with that race.”
Gil Hernandez, a delegate from Corpus Christi, Texas, said that despite Mr. Cruz’s initial long-shot odds to win the primary, his tireless approach to campaigning was what won the hearts and votes of Texas Republicans.
“It just shows that it doesn’t’ matter what your heritage is, it matters what you believe in and how you relay that message in campaigning, and that’s why Ted Cruz won that election,” he said. “Ted Cruz just worked a little harder.”
If Mr. Cruz wins the general election he will be Texas’ first Hispanic senator. But other than repeatedly bringing up the story of his father’s immigration to the state from Cuba during stump speeches, the candidate’s ethnic heritage wasn’t much of a topic during the race.
“We don’t want to separate ourselves as Hispanic Republicans, African American Republicans — we’re not like that,” Mr. Hernandez said. “It’s [our] belief system that unifies us, not our ethnic background, not our heritage, not our surnames.”