With all precincts reporting, Cruz won 13 percent more votes than Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a powerful GOP figure who spent freely from his vast personal fortune and had endorsements from most of the state’s influential Republicans, including Gov. Rick Perry.
Tea party leaders hailed Cruz’s 56.8 percent to 43.2 percent victory as a sign of the movement’s political maturation. After bursting onto the scene in 2010, the tea party this year suffered defeats in a few Senate primaries, appeared divided in several GOP contests, and before Tuesday mustered just one clear victory — in Indiana, where state Treasurer Richard Mourdock ousted 36-year Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), whose missteps contributed to his primary defeat.
Following Mourdock’s victory in early May, conservative activists mapped out a strategy to emphasize the Lone Star State. The first step was keeping Dewhurst below the 50 percent threshold in a multi-candidate primary on May 29, triggering a runoff. That gave them two months to mobilize for a one-on-one contest.
Cruz’s win, they believe, could be a springboard to victories in other primaries this month.
“Texas built on Indiana,” said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, a Washington-based group that helps finance conservative anti-establishment candidates. “Activists all over the country are watching Texas. We’ve kind of nationalized the race.”
The next big Senate primary will come Tuesday in Missouri, where a trio of conservatives are fighting for tea party support.
The following week, Wisconsin will provide another clear contest between the establishment — former governor Tommy Thompson — and outsiders. Most conservatives, including Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), have thrown their support to former congressman Mark Neumann, but some have lined up behind investor Eric Hovde.
In late August, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) — a longtime hero to anti-spending groups — will try to fight off a challenge from businessman Wil Cardon, who is spending millions of his own money trying to portray himself as a true outsider.
A conservative state
Cruz — whose father immigrated from Cuba in 1957 with $100 sewn into his underwear — is almost assured of joining the Senate. Given Texas’s Republican tilt, Democrats have not put many resources into the general-election contest to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R). Former state representative Paul Sadler won the Democratic primary on Tuesday night and will face Cruz in November.
Like Lugar, Hutchison hails from the more mainstream wing of the GOP, and their potential replacements are almost certain to lean much further right.