AUSTIN, Texas AP — Ted Cruz is fond of saying that when he began his run for U.S. Senate, he was at 2 percent in the polls against Texas Republican juggernaut David Dewhurst, the states lieutenant governor for nearly a decade.
Actually, the 41-year-old former state solicitor general seemed an even longer shot than that.
Gov. Rick Perry and much of the rest of the Republican establishment lined up to endorse Dewhurst for their partys nomination to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and the partys mainstream doesnt lose much in Texas. After all, the state hasnt elected a Democrat to statewide office in nearly 20 years.
But Cruz pulled off what had seemed an unthinkable upset Tuesday, and it wasnt even close. He trounced Dewhurst by about 13 percentage points, shaking one of Americas reddest states to its political core.
His victory was all the more stunning considering Cruz lost to the lieutenant governor 44 percent to 34 percent during the states May 29 primary. But simply making it to a second round of voting proved a major momentum-builder for Cruz, who vowed to prevail since his supporters were dedicated enough to turn out during the Texas summer doldrums.
Cruz got there by spending months sitting in on Republican womens meetings at Dennys, chatting up pastors at Bible studies and addressing tea party gatherings across Texas. Eventually, he became enough of a grass-roots sensation to attract the support of national conservative groups such as the anti-tax Club for Growth, which branded Dewhurst as too moderate and spent millions to help defeat him.
“We are witnessing a great awakening,” Cruz told cheering supporters in Houston shortly after Dewhurst called him to concede Tuesday night. “Millions of Texans, millions of Americans are rising up to reclaim our country, to defend liberty and to restore the Constitution.”
The race had been closely watched nationally as one of the most-vivid contrasts between the GOP mainstream and grass-roots, conservative activists. Shortly after most of the polls closed statewide, it had become a cakewalk for Cruz.
“Were just tired of the government ignoring the Constitution,” said Don Steinway, a 76-year-old retired commercial airline pilot, who lives in Houston and described himself as a staunch supporter of the tea party.
Cruzs father Rafael was born in Cuba and fought with Fidel Castros rebels before they embraced communism. The elder Cruz fled the island and arrived in Texas in 1957 with $100 sewn into his underwear. His son, meanwhile, is a onetime Ivy League debating champion with a fiery stage presence and a brand of populism that energizes grass-roots groups.