Tea Party-backed Ted Cruz scored an upset 14-point victory over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in Tuesday's Texas Senate primary runoff, a stark reminder that the grassroots movement once thought to be on the wane is, in the words of its heroine Sarah Palin, "alive and well".
Cruz, who won with 56.8 percent of the vote, is now considered a near-certain prospect for victory in the general election in November: Texas has not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994.
Most importantly, this significant win for the Tea Party -- often criticized as ineffective and on the decline -- means that should presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney take over the White House next year, he may find himself faced with Republicans who are far from party orthodoxy and don't feel comfortable being a part of a group they have always dismissed as career politicians. That may lead to tough confrontations on policy, with Tea Party-backed elected officials unwilling to compromise with even a Republican White House -- especially one led by Romney, who has never been popular with the Republican right wing the Tea Party has now monopolized.
"Congratulations to Ted Cruz! This is a victory both for Ted and for the grassroots Tea Party movement," former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin wrote on her Facebook page. "This primary race has always been about the kind of leadership we need in D.C.
"Our goal is not just about changing the majority in the Senate. It is about the kind of leadership we want," she wrote. "Ted Cruz represents the kind of strong conservative leadership we want in D.C. Go-along to get-along career politicians who hew the path of least resistance are no longer acceptable at a time when our country is drowning in debt and our children's futures are at stake. The message of this race couldn't be clearer for the political establishment: the Tea Party is alive and well and we will not settle for business as usual. Now, it's on to November!"
Cruz, a 41-year-old former state solicitor general, has never held elective office. He held the solicitor general position between 2003 and 2008. Born in Canada to a Cuban father who fled torture in his native island, Cruz is the third Tea Party-backed newcomer to score a defeat over the establishment in a U.S. Senate Primary.
Cruz is also among a group of rising Republican stars that are part of a minority. The group of non-white Republicans includes Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, also a Latino; Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who are Indian-Americans, along with Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, both Latinos; as well as South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott, the first African-American congressman from the state since 1901.
A year ago, Dewhurst, 66, was considered the frontrunner in the race. He went into the race with many pluses including the support of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and a huge personal fortune, from which he pumped a reported $11 million into his campaign.
"Tonight is a victory for the grassroots," Cruz told a gathering at a Marriott ballroom in Houston. "It is a testament to Republican women, to Tea Party leaders and to grassroots conservatives. This is how elections are supposed to be decided: by 'we, the people'."
Perry has since urged Texas conservatives to rally behind Cruz, the Houston Chronicle reported. And Dewhurst, who called Cruz to concede and to offer his support, told his gathering that the party will not stop fighting for its conservative principles.
"We will never stop fighting President Barack Obama and his liberal agenda," Dewhurst said. Whether the new Tea Party recruits who will likely make it to Washington in November will want to do that in the same way as more mainstream Republicans remains an unknown.