Tea Party-backed Republican Ted Cruz knocked off party-establishment choice Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in Texas' Senate runoff election Tuesday that was widely watched nationally.
By winning the GOP nomination, Cruz becomes a heavy favorite to win the seat in the November general election, as conservative-leaning Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide since 1994. He will face former state representative Paul Sadler, who won the Democratic runoff.
The seat is now held by Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is retiring.
"We are witnessing a great awakening," Cruz told supporters in Houston after Dewhurst called him to concede. "Millions of Texans, millions of Americans are rising up to reclaim our country, to defend liberty and to restore the Constitution."
Dewhurst said his campaign "got beat up a little bit, but we never gave up."
Dewhurst easily led in the first primary in May, aided by support from Republican Gov. Rick Perry, but he fell short of winning a majority among nine candidates and was forced into a runoff. Cruz enjoyed surging support in the runoff that spotlighted divisions between Texas' mainstream and Tea Party-oriented Republicans.
Cruz competed against a better-funded and better-known establishment favorite based largely on his appeal to grass-roots conservatives and endorsements from national party leaders, including former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.
"What we've found is, if you've got grass-roots energy, all you really need is enough money to get you on the radar," DeMint said.
Cruz's victory joins Richard Mourdock's ousting of Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar in his May primary as the two most significant Republican establishment upsets of the 2012 Senate races.
The race highlights the ongoing electoral tussle between the Republican establishment and conservative grass roots in the nominating process.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who runs the Senate Republicans' campaign operation, attributed Cruz's rise to lingering anger in the electorate for Washington's failure to solve problems such as the national debt and the pending expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts.
Cruz, 41, is the son of a Cuban-American father and was the first Hispanic solicitor general in Texas but has never held elected office.
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