Cruz ran to the right in the race, picking up the Tea Party mantle, snagging the Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint endorsements, and riding a wave of online activist support and started outpacing Dewhurst in the monthly fundraising race. Casting himself, or allowing allies to cast him, as the “Marco Rubio of Texas,” didn’t hurt.
To counter Cruz’s gathering momentum, the Dewhurst campaign touted the endorsements of Gov. Rick Perry and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The Dewhurst campaign retooled a couple of times and then went harshly negative. In ads that owned Texas radio and TV signals for weeks, Dewhurst blasted Cruz with everything and the kitchen sink — China came up, the tragic suicide of a young man placed in the Texas juvenile justice system came up, just about everything came up. But none of the attacks made much sense, and none of them stuck. A last minute pair of dirty tricks, of unknown origin but favoring Dewhurst, seem to have done nothing but galvanize the Cruz campaign that they were on target for a big upset. The most expensive Senate race in Texas history came down to having a candidate who could inspire Texas Republicans to believe, and that candidate is Ted Cruz.
Cruz’s win puts a conservative, Tea Party advocate in Washington and also reflects the changing face of the state’s Republican Party. The Texas GOP is far from the caricature of a typically white southern GOP, but Sen. Cruz will be a banner-carrier for the state who happens to carry Hispanic heritage. For a key Republican state that is already demographically majority minority, the significance of this should not be lost. The 2010 Texas GOP primary saw voters reject incumbent Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo, who blamed his loss on his Hispanic name. Carrillo was arguably the most qualified member of that board, but it was likely his illness in the primary and the obscurity of the commission itself that contributed to his defeat. But it still stung Hispanic Republicans and others who wondered if he had a point. Cruz’s thumping win in the Senate runoff undoes the damage from that primary two years ago.
The Tea Party picked up other GOP runoff wins in Texas, notably Dr. Donna Campbell in the state Senate race 25. She is a leader to watch. Former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams has fought off a runoff challenge in Texas Congressional District 25. But Cruz’s win is the star, and it is comprehensive. He won all across the Lone Star State, in the large cities (except liberal Austin*) and in the rural areas. He won comfortably, with about 53% of the vote. Cruz’s win is a strong sign that the Tea Party is capable of backing a strong candidate against a stronger candidate, at least on paper, and backing that candidate to a resounding victory.
*At the time this article was published, Dewhurst led in Austin, but Cruz ended up winning there as well. Finally tally: 56.2% for Cruz, to 43.79% for Dewhurst.