In what might someday be seen as a turning point for the Republican Party in Texas, former state solicitor general Ted Cruz tonight upset Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican runoff for the United States Senate.
Cruz, who had not run for political office before, will be heavily favored in the Nov. 6 general election to beat Democrat Paul Sadler, who easily won his runoff Tuesday night.
Cruz defeated Dewhurst 57 percent to 43 percent with all of the statewide vote counted. Associated Press called the election for Cruz an hour-and-a-half after the polls closed with little more than 20 percent of the vote counted and Cruz ahead by 7 percent.
Outgoing U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison Tuesday night congratulated both candidates on a hard-fought campaign.
“In the coming months, I will do everything I can to support the election of Ted Cruz to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate and be available to him for any questions that will prepare him for the issues he will face,” she said in a prepared statement. “It is more important than ever that we have leaders who are committed to get our country back on track – focused on cutting spending and creating jobs to grow our economy.”
In two other key races for federal office, Roger Williams, the former Texas secretary of state, ran away from Central Texas Tea Party founder Wes Riddle for the Republican nomination for U.S. Congress in the 25th District. Williams trounced Riddle 58 percent to 42 percent with all precincts reporting.
And in what most thought would be a tight race to the finish, state Rep. Pete Gallego prevailed over former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez for the Democratic nomination for Congress in the 23rd District. Gallego bested Rodriguez 55 percent to 45 percent with all precincts reporting.
While the full explanation for and the impact of Cruz’ victory will be parsed for months to come, Tea Party leaders and conservative fundraisers from outside Texas stepped forward Tuesday night to congratulate Cruz and to take some credit for the win.
Cruz had laid the groundwork canvassing the state at least a year before small government conservatives began referring to themselves as Tea Party members and three years before he announced he would run for Senate.
Tea Party leaders in Texas identified him as one the key candidates in a statewide effort to oust incumbent Republicans in the May primaries. Dewhurst, a liked and respected conservative lieutenant governor for nine years, might have known there was trouble ahead when he failed to make it out of the primary without a runoff.
“This is a victory both for Ted and for the grassroots Tea Party movement,” Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate, who campaigned for Cruz in Texas, said in a Facebook post Tuesday night. “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.”
Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, the largest political action committee affiliate, said, “We saw an unquestionably strong and bold tea party conservative in Cruz. We saw Dewhurst as the anointed Austin politician that was exactly what we have been working to rid Washington of. And finally we saw the passion in the Texas tea party activists that could set the stage for this historic victory.”
Analysts will also be looking back on an engulfing wave of conservative money from outside the state donated mostly by the national Club for Growth and the Texas Conservatives Fund.
Open Secrets is reporting that outside groups spent $14.4 million, $3.2 million of it in the last week.
Dewhurst loaned his campaign $24.5 million, a factor driving what the nonprofit website called “the most expensive non-presidential race this cycle.”
Club for Growth Action, the conservative group's super PAC arm, plugged over $5.5 million into the contest.
“Tonight, Texas Republicans have shown Washington that the people do not work for the politicians – the politicians work for the people.” Chris Chocola, president of Club for Growth, said in a statement. “Ted Cruz won because he clearly articulated the pro-growth message that Republican voters across the country have responded to.”
Early voting last week was a tipoff the Cruz and Dewhurst race excited Republicans, an enthusiasm that favored Cruz. In five days 243,795 Republicans cast early runoff ballots, 3.3 percent of the state’s registered Republican voters, according to figures compiled by the Secretary of State.
In a much higher-profile, broader primary, with 12 days to vote early, 343,497 or 4.17 percent of Texas’ registered Republicans cast ballots.
While he said the race was too close to call, James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, told Texas Watchdog last week strong early voting would be a sign of which candidate had done the most to inspire their voting bases.
On Tuesday night, Rep. Gallego, D-Alpine, showed he was capable of reigniting his base. Having led from the start of the campaign, Gallego was beaten in the May 29 Democratic primary 46 to 41 percent by Rodriguez in the 48,000-square-mile 23rd District.
Gallego raised considerably more money than Rodriguez. Observers who followed the race closely said Rodriguez had been working door to door for much longer than Gallego in an attempt to avenge a loss to incumbent Republican, Francisco “Quico” Canseco.
The winner of the runoff will meet Canseco in the Nov. 6 general election.
Riddle’s same strategy of working the redrawn 25th District was to overcome Williams, a conservative who had raised and spent almost eight times as much money and had the advantage of having held a statewide appointed office.
Riddle, a retired lieutenant colonel, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army and novice candidate from Belton, surprised some by edging former Railroad Commission Chairman Mike Williams in the primary and forcing a runoff.
Editor's Note: This story was updated as election results were updated.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.
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