Cruz, an emerging conservative star whose father emigrated to the United States from Cuba, has drawn comparisons to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and has been lauded by national conservative political pundits and groups for over a year. His victory is a major blow to the Republican establishment in Texas, which lined up squarely behind Dewhurst. It’s also a victory for the tea party and national conservatives who lined up behind Cruz even when a surprise win appeared unlikely.
In other elections held on Tuesday, state lawmaker Pete Gallego won a Democratic runoff in Texas’s 23rd District over former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez. Gallego will face freshman Republican Rep. Quico Canseco in a battleground race this November. Meanwhile, vulnerable Democratic Rep. John Barrow will have to wait until Aug. 21 to find out who his Republican opponent will be in Georgia’s 12th District, with the GOP primary headed to a runoff. Barrow is running on more conservative turf than in the past, due to redistricting.
Cruz’s win is a remarkable political feat and arguably the Senate upset of the cycle. In early 2011, when Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison announced her intention to retire, observers regarded Dewhurst as a virtual shoo-in to take her place in the upper chamber. Dewhurst is very well-known in Texas, enjoys immense personal wealth, and enlisted the help of Gov. Rick Perry’s top political hands. Perry endorsed Dewhurst during the campaign.
But in a multiple-candidate primary election that also included former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert on May 29, Dewhurst was unable to cross the crucial 50 percent threshold, managing just 45 percent of the vote to Cruz’s 34 percent.
Once the two-month overtime period was triggered, Cruz seized on new momentum. He outraised Dewhurst 3-1 in the first third of July and brought in an impressive cast of national conservative stars to stump with him during the closing weekend of the campaign. Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who both endorsed Cruz’s candidacy, campaigned for him Friday in the Houston area.
While Dewhurst was extremely well-funded, a crucial national ally helped Cruz keep pace on the expensive Texas television airwaves. The anti-tax Club For Growth spent $5.5 million on independent expenditures to help the underdog pull off the upset. Despite their buy-in, Dewhurst and his allies still outspent Cruz and his allies on the air during the final week of the runoff campaign.
Cruz also performed well during early voting for the runoff, which took place last week. During the early voting period leading up to the May primary, it was Dewhurst who performed best.
The preparation paid off, considering Cruz’s overall margin of victory. With 48 percent of precincts reporting, he led Dewhurst 55 percent to 45 percent, according to the AP.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, congratulated Cruz on his win and added that the candidate “and his team ran a remarkable race and this is a well-deserved and well-earned victory.”
With a full slate of competitive Senate primaries on tap in August, look for other insurgent Republicans like Sarah Steelman and Rep. Todd Akin in Missouri, Mark Neumann and Eric Hovde in Wisconsin, and Clark Durant in Michigan, to try to seize on Cruz’s momentum in the coming weeks.