Tea party favorite Ted Cruz, once considered a long shot to win the Texas Republican Senate nomination, beat Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a bitterly contested and expensive two-man runoff election Tuesday.
With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, Mr. Cruz got 57 percent of the vote to Mr. Dewhurst’s 43 percent, according to election returns.
Mr. Cruz will face former Texas state lawmaker Paul Sadler, who the AP declared the winner over Grady Yarbrough in Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff. But Mr. Sadler will have a huge cash disadvantage and be a significant underdog come November in the Republican-dominated state.
A year ago Mr. Dewhurst, 66, was considered the heir apparent to the seat, which was created by the retirement of four-term incumbent GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. He was endorsed by the largely popular Gov. Rick Perry. And a personal fortune estimated to be worth $200 million meant that any serious opponent was going to have to raise significant cash to stay competitive.
The lieutenant governor had touted his experience in the Air Force, the CIA and in business, as well as a statewide political career that began in 1999 as the commissioner of the Texas General Land Office.
But Mr. Cruz, 41, the son of a Cuban-American immigrant, launched a fiery but organized campaign that accused Mr. Dewhurst of being a “moderate” too willing to compromise. He has received endorsements from tea party heavyweights such as former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
Mrs. Palin offered congratulations to Mr. Cruz on her Facebook page, saying his win “was victory both for Ted and for the grassroots Tea Party movement.”
“Ted Cruz represents the kind of strong conservative leadership we want in D.C.,” said her post on the social media website. “Go-along to get-along career politicians who hew the path of least resistance are no longer acceptable at a time when our country is drowning in debt and our children’s futures are at stake.”
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, also gave kudos to Mr. Cruz for his “hard-fought and spirited primary battle.”
“I could not be more pleased with the nomination of Ted Cruz and I offer my warmest congratulations,” said senator in a prepared statement.
Mr. Cruz overcame double-digit polling deficits early in the race. By Monday a Public Policy Polling survey showed the former Texas solicitor general with a 10-percentage-point lead.
The campaigns viciously attacked the other.
Mr. Dewhurst accused Mr. Cruz of being the lead attorney for a Chinese manufacturer charged with stealing the intellectual property of an American businessman. Mr. Cruz disputes that he is the primary counsel in the case.
Mr. Dewhurst stirred up another controversy, accusing Mr. Cruz of supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants because of affiliations with two groups the Dewhurst campaign says back amnesty. Mr. Cruz has denied the charge and pushed back, accusing his rival of not doing enough to secure Texas’ border with Mexico while serving as lieutenant governor.
Republicans across the country viewed the race as an important skirmish in the internal war over the philosophical direction of the party, with deep-pocket conservative groups eager to influence its outcome.
More outside cash — about $14.6 million — has 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.
“The race illustrates that the more extreme conservatives within the Texas Republican Party are on the march, and they’re dominating the discourse,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics project at the University of Texas at Austin.
If Mr. Cruz prevails in November, he’ll join a wave of tea-party-backed lawmakers elected to Congress in 2010 that helped Republicans take control of the House and slash the Democrats’ numerical advantage in the Senate. Tea-party-supported winners in the upper chamber that year included Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Another tea-party-backed Senate candidate, Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, beat longtime Sen. Richard G. Lugar in the state’s primary in May,
Mr. Cruz and Mr. Dewhurst failed to get an outright majority in the state’s Republican primary in May, prompting a runoff. In the contest, Mr. Dewhurst earned 45 percent of the vote to Mr. Cruz’s 34 percent.