By Roque Planas, ,
Published January 10, 2017
In a come-from-behind victory, Cuban-American Ted Cruz defeated Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a GOP primary race for a U.S. Senate seat that has attracted national attention.
The Tea Party-backed Cruz forced Dewhurst into a runoff in a May 29 election, where he came in second with 34 percent of the vote. Dewhurst, an establishment Republican who has presided over the state Senate since 2003, then saw his lead dwindle to nothing.
The final result: Cruz pummeled Dewhurst by about 13 percentage points, according to the Associated Press.
This is a victory for the grassroots.
“Wow! We did it!” Cruz told a crowd of supporters in Houston, according to the Houston Chronicle. “This is a victory for the grassroots. We should take it as a providential sign that today would be the 100th birthday of Milton Friedman.”
The storyline has drawn comparisons to Marco Rubio, the Florida Cuban-American who rode a wave of Tea Party-fueled, anti-establishment anger to win a U.S. Senate seat in 2010.
But unlike Rubio, who served in the state legislature before winning his Senate seat, Cruz has never held elected office and his aggressive campaign against David Dewhurst, a well connected GOP politician, has ruffled feathers in Texas.
Cruz’s television ads blasting Dewhurst for supporting a payroll tax and failing to pass a bill that would outlaw “sanctuary cities” where undocumented immigrants face weaker enforcement riled the Texas GOP, prompting Republicans in the Texas Senate to publish an open letter defending Dewhurst’s record.
The letter, which does not mention Cruz by name but is clearly directed at him, was signed by all state GOP senators but one—Tea Party-backed Brian Birdwell.
Dewhurst also ran an aggressive campaign, attacking the clients Cruz represented as an attorney.
Watch a recap of the attacks Cruz and Dewhurst lobbed at one another during the fierce campaign.
As an outsider promising to upend politics-as-usual in Washington, Cruz cultivated the image of the underdog. Dewhurst, a wealthy businessman, dipped into his personal fortune for a multi-million dollar injection of campaign funds. His campaign outspent Cruz’s three to one.
Cruz did not campaign on spirit alone, however.
The pro-free market Club for Growth, the largest single contributor to the Texas U.S. Senate race, has dropped over $4 million to support Cruz, according to data compiled by the CRP.
Cruz’s success also owed to his eloquence. A former Solicitor General for the state of Texas who won several cases before the Supreme Court, Cruz put his opponent on the defensive in televised debates where Dewhurst often seemed ill at ease.
With Cruz’s victory Tuesday, it’s likely that Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) will have another Cuban-American colleague in the U.S. Senate. The winner of the July 31 primary runoff will almost certainly walk away with the Senate seat, given that Republicans outnumber Democrats by a large margin in statewide races. Rubio and Menendez are currently the only two Latino U.S. Senators.
But while Cruz has emphasized his father’s up-by-the-boostraps immigrant success story, he did not spend much time targeting Latino voters.
“Latinos are a relatively small share of the GOP primary electorate, somewhere between 5 and 10 percent,” Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, told Fox News Latino. “For the Hispanics that are going to vote for him, he doesn’t need to make an appeal to them as a fellow Hispanic. But if he does anything explicit, that risks having a detrimental effect on some of his conservative base.”