SAN ANTONIO -- Tea party darling Ted Cruz trounced the Republican establishment favorite, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, in Texas’ runoff election Tuesday, winning the GOP nomination to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
"Wow, we did it," Cruz said in a victory speech. "When we started, they said this was impossible. We were at two percent in the polls and they said I couldn't do it. You know what, they were right. I couldn't do it, you could do it. And you did it."
Dewhurst had the endorsement of much of Texas’ Republican mainstream, including Gov. Rick Perry, who despite his failed run for president was still widely popular back home. He also had a $200 million personal fortune he could dip into at will and did, loaning his Senate campaign at least $24.5 million.
"This is not the way I envisioned this evening... especially in light of my conservative record and all of the things we've accomplished in Texas," Dewhurst said in a concession speech.
It's an outcome that figured to reverberate far beyond the Lone Star State.
The race had been closely watched nationally, seen as one of America’s most-vivid contrasts between the GOP mainstream and the tea party. But as results began to pour in, it turned out to be no contest—with Cruz grabbing early leads in key cities around the state where Dewhurst had once enjoyed stronger name recognition, fundraising and political organization just weeks earlier.
Overseeing the state Senate from the powerful lieutenant governor’s post since 2003, Dewhurst was long considered a slam dunk in his race with Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant and former state solicitor general. But Cruz has a fiery stage presence that made tea party supporters across the state swoon, and received millions from national, conservative organizations which targeted Dewhurst as too moderate. Even though the lieutenant governor oversaw some of the most-conservative state legislative sessions in Texas history and helped speed the passage of laws requiring women to undergo a sonogram before having an abortion and voters to show identification at the polls, he also occasionally compromised with Democratic lawmakers to keep the legislative agenda moving.
Meanwhile, former Democratic state Rep. Paul Saddler easily bested perennial candidate Grady Yarbrough to capture his party’s nomination and face Cruz in November’s general election, but Cruz begins that race the overwhelming favorite.