Tea party favorite and former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz has won the Texas Senate Republican primary, and will now likely be the next senator from Texas.
The Associated Press called the race one hour and 25 minutes after the polls closed in most of Texas (some of the state is on Mountain Time). Cruz had 53.6 percent of the vote to Dewhurst’s 46.4 percent, with 21 percent of districts reporting.
Tea Party Express, a big supporter of Cruz’s, touted the win as a “historic tea party victory tonight against the Texas establishment,” in a statement from chairwoman Amy Kremer.
Indeed, the race has been cast in a similar fashion to the Indiana primary in which Richard Mourdock ousted Sen. Richard Lugar. Though neither candidate yet serves in Washington, Dewhurst was considered the establishment choice, while Cruz was the tea party favorite.
Dewhurst was endorsed by most Texas government officials — 17 members of the Republican delegation in the state senate, along with the comptroller and agricultural commissioner, as well as Gov. Rick Perry.
Cruz, by contrast earned endorsements from a list of tea party all-stars: Sarah Palin, Sen. Jim DeMint, Glenn Beck, Sen. Mike Lee, Sen. Rand Paul, and former Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum — all of whom stumped for Cruz in Texas in the final days of the race.
“It’s a stunning upset,” emailed Texas Democratic strategist Harold Cook, “in which it lays bare the war on establishment Republicans by tea party conservatives, and makes it clear that the tea party activists are winning in the primaries, and forcing the Republican Party so far to the right that it’s beginning to be imaginable that Democrats may be a more substantial part of the conversation in the fall, even in a state as red as Texas.”
“It is clear that the tea party voters are still a force to be reckoned with,” emailed Republican strategist Trey Hardin. “Perry owned that state politically but his horse lost tonight. If I were the Democrats I would not underestimate the turnout machine that is the tea party. This election shows those voters are engaged and very much in play for November. As they say … don’t mess with Texas.”
The result vindicates the Cruz campaign’s strategy. Since before the original primary in May, Cruz staffers have said with certainty that if Cruz made it to a run-off with Dewhurst, he could pull off the win because his supporters were more enthusiastic and riled up about the race, that they were the ones who would show up to vote on a scalding hot day in the middle of a Texas summer.
Indeed, an hour before the polls closed, the temperature in Dallas was 105 degrees, according to the Weather Channel.
Even after the two went to a run-off, it might have sounded like a fantasy.
As lieutenant governor, Dewhurst was not only one of the most powerful politicians in the state, but he had nearly 100 percent name recognition statewide and deep pockets, meaning he could easily self-fund a campaign that would outspend Cruz.
As of July 11, the Texas Tribune calculated that the Dewhurst campaign had spent $18,801,096. Dewhurst himself had personally loaned the campaign $19,136,563 as of July 25. By contrast, the Cruz campaign spent just over $7 million. Cruz loaned his campaign $1,045,000.
But on Monday, Public Policy Polling released a poll that showed momentum had decidedly built in Cruz’ favor. The poll found Cruz had pulled further ahead of Dewhurst, leading 52 percent to 42 percent, with a massive lead of over fifty points among tea party voters.
Despite the polls, Dewhurst continued to maintain that he was going to win the run-off. As late as Tuesday afternoon, appearing on FOX News, he denied that Cruz had taken a lead in the race.
“Our polling has shown all along that we’re ahead, and I believe that we’re ahead,” he said. The campaign emailed out the internal poll to which he was referring Monday; it put Dewhurst ahead of Cruz 48 percent to 44 percent, and focused on his lead among seniors — something the PPP poll also found. According to Dewhurst’s pollster, 66 percent of early voters through Monday were senior citizens.
But as the numbers started coming in Tuesday, Cruz took an early lead and never relinquished it.
Cruz will now very likely be the next senator from Texas: the state’s demographics are highly favorable to Republicans and there is no strong Democratic candidate to counter that advantage.