Former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz (R) has won the state's Senate primary runoff election, all but guaranteeing him a spot in the upper chamber and giving the Tea Party one of its biggest victories of the election cycle.
Cruz led Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) by 54 percent to 46 percent, with 21 percent of precincts reporting. The Associated Press has called the race.
Cruz is considered a lock in the general election: The state leans heavily to the GOP and Democrats failed to recruit a serious candidate for the seat.
He congratulated Dewhurst for a hard-fought race and thanked him for his public service.
"In the heat of the campaign there have been harsh words spoken but I am hopeful that all of us can work together and put them behind us going forward," he said, and told a raucous crowd that Dewhurst had promised to back him in the general election. Dewhurst had refused to say whether he would in a conversation with The Hill last week.
Cruz then name-checked conservative economist Milton Friedman, whose 100th birthday would have been Tuesday, before warning of the country's rising deficit.
"Our crushing debt threatens our future. Every generation of Americans has given to their kids and grandkids a brighter future and brighter economic prosperity, and our generation will be no different. That is why we are rising up to take our country, to preserve liberty, to restore the Constitution," he said as the crowd exploded.
Dewhurst admitted his campaign had fallen "a little short" but told his supporters that "we can stand tall in knowing we never compromised any of our values."
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) congratulated Cruz on the victory. Cornyn did not say who he voted for in the race.
"This has been a hard-fought and spirited primary battle and the people of Texas would have been fortunate to have any one of these well-qualified candidates as their next U.S. Senator. But I could not be more pleased with the nomination of Ted Cruz and I offer my warmest congratulations to Ted, his wife Heidi and their two daughters," Cornyn said in a statement. "Ted believes, as I do, that we need to make Washington, D.C. look a little more like the great state of Texas, and that starts with restoring common-sense, conservative values in our nation's Capitol."
The Tea Party favorite started the race as a huge underdog with virtually no name recognition facing a well-known statewide official who had millions of his own money to spend on the race. Less than a year ago, Cruz barely broke into double digits in polls, and trailed Dewhurst by as many as 30 percentage points.
But Cruz was buoyed by support from a number of national Tea Party groups. The fiscally conservative Club for Growth spent more than $5.5 million on the race and bundled an additional $1 million in donations to Cruz's campaign, while DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund and its new super-PAC offshoot, Senate Conservatives Action, combined to spend $1.3 million on the race. The Tea Party group FreedomWorks chipped in another half million dollars.
That money helped Cruz stay competitive on the airwaves during the first round of voting in late May, and pull even with Dewhurst and his allies in the closing days of the runoff.
The Club was quick to wish Cruz congratulations — and point out how much it invested in the race with a memo documenting the totals.
"Ted Cruz is a champion of economic freedom and we look forward to seeing him fight for America in the Senate," said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. "Ted Cruz won because he clearly articulated the pro-growth message that Republican voters across the country have responded to. Tonight, Texas Republicans have shown Washington that the people do not work for the politicians – the politicians work for the people."
He also benefitted from support from a number of influential conservatives. DeMint was an early and ardent backer, as were the Club and prominent conservative blogger Erick Erickson of RedState.com. The National Review featured him on its cover last September, and conservative columnist George Will touted his credentials as well, though he did not endorse in the race.
That support — and some serious buzz in the conservative blogosphere and with Texas’s Tea Party groups — helped vault Cruz into contention.
In recent days Cruz has had a number of conservative stars come in to stump with him: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), talk show host Glenn Beck, and Sens. DeMint, Lee and Paul.
While Dewhurst has a fairly conservative record he had close ties to Texas’s political establishment, allowing Tea Party groups to paint him as an insider.
He sought to counter that by heavy ad spending touting his conservative credentials and tearing apart Cruz’s record. Dewhurst spent just shy of $25 million of his own money on the race — but it wasn’t enough.
The result is a blow to Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who has not said whether or not he plans to run for another term as governor. Perry endorsed Dewhurst early on and campaigned hard with his former running mate, cutting ads for him and making a number of appearances with him in the final week. Many of Dewhurst’s staff, including the men running his campaign, the super-PAC supporting him and his press shop, are longtime Perry loyalists who worked on his presidential campaign.
Dewhurst’s loss might make Perry think twice about another term. He ran hard to the right in his 2010 primary, but a poorly funded Tea Party candidate who’d said the September 11th attacks may have been an inside job still took one fifth of the vote, and polls have shown Perry's failed presidential bid hurt his standing back in Texas.
This post was last updated at 11:15 p.m.