The most expensive — $37 million so far — and possibly the hardest-fought U.S. Senate nomination fight ended Tuesday night as Ted Cruz — hero of the Texas tea party movement and many national conservative groups — won the Republican run-off in Texas for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The 41-year-old Cruz, former solicitor general of Texas and onetime law clerk to the late Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, rolled up 53.9 percent of the vote over Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst.
In terms of national politics and political history, the contest in Texas is important. Like Republican Senate nominees Richard Mourdock of Indiana and Deb Fischer of Nebraska, first-time office-seeker Cruz ran as an anti-government, anti-tax ‚??constitutional conservative‚?Ě and had strong backing from the tea party. Moreover, as the son of a Cuban immigrant, Harvard Law graduate Cruz becomes his state‚??s first-ever senate nominee of Cuban heritage and, assured of election in the fall, will be the third Cuban-American member of the Senate — the others are Republican Marco Rubio of Florida and Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey. Obviously sensing Cruz‚??s national potential, more than a dozen radio and TV news outlets, including Fox News, booked him as a guest on the day of the run-off.
As syndicated columnist George Will pointed out, ‚??[o]n 99 percent of U.S. Senate business, Cruz and Dewhurst would probably vote alike.‚?Ě Their differences were primarily stylistic and in terms of who was in their respective corner. National conservative figures and groups such as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), the Club for Growth, and Freedomworks all weighed in for Cruz, who was often likened to such tea party movement heroes and 2010 Senate winners as Republicans Rubio (Fla.), Mike Lee (Utah), and Pat Toomey (Pa.).
Cruz, in fact, pulled off something of a political coup when he brought in Sarah Palin to stump for him last Friday. The 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee inarguably helped other tea party winners in Senate races such as Mourdock in Indiana and Nebraska‚??s Fischer, but in their primaries — and most other races in which she has become involved — Palin simply endorsed them and rarely campaigns for anyone. In coming to the Lone Star State to appear with Cruz, she gave him swatches of publicity and, few doubt, some last minute momentum.
The 66-year-old Dewhurst, who has overseen a pro-business and anti-tax record as presiding officer of the state senate, campaigned as a strong conservative. A born-again Christian, he held a fund-raising event at Chick-fil-A. But Dewhurst‚??s support clearly played into the hands of Cruz supporters who charged he was the establishment candidate. Dewhurst was strongly backed by Gov. Rick Perry — with whom many tea party members have grown disappointed since his failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination earlier this year — and 18 of the 19 GOP state senators.
‚??No, I don‚??t think there was a much of a difference between the candidates on issues,‚?Ě former state GOP chairman and longtime conservative leader Tom Pauken told Human Events last week. ‚??But in terms of exciting the grass-roots conservatives, Ted had a big advantage. And they‚??re the people who turn out in July heat here.‚?Ě¬†They did.