Tea party-backed attorney Ted Cruz swept past establishment Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to win a runoff Tuesday and seize the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate.
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"This is a victory for the grass roots," Cruz told supporters in Houston. "This is how elections are supposed to be decided, by we the people."
Cruz used advantages in nearly all of Texas' heavily populated counties to secure the party's nod to succeed retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. He'll meet Democratic former state Rep. Paul Sadler in November.
"We are witnessing a great awakening," Cruz said in his victory speech. "Millions of Texans, millions of Americans are rising up to reclaim our country, to defend liberty and to restore the Constitution.
The Republican runoff, which gained national attention, was among several Tuesday in Texas pitting mainline Republicans against tea party-backed candidates in races for the U.S. House, the state Legislature, the Texas Supreme Court and other offices.
"I congratulate Ted Cruz on a hard-fought victory and a well-executed campaign," Gov. Rick Perry said. "Ted is a force to be reckoned with: an excellent candidate and a great conservative communicator. I call on all conservative Texans to rally behind Ted Cruz in November so we can remake the U.S. Senate in the image of Texas for the good of all Americans."
Dewhurst had offered his 14 years of state government experience against Cruz, a former Texas solicitor general running in his first election. Dewhurst counted Gov. Rick Perry among his backers and topped Cruz by 10 percentage points in the May primary but fell short of the 50 percent of the vote he needed to avoid the runoff.
"This is not quite the way I envisioned the evening," said Dewhurst, adding that he had spoken with Cruz, congratulated him "on a hard-fought victory" and offered support.
Dewhurst thanked his supporters, who were gathered at a Houston hotel.
"Thanks for standing up for Texas," Dewhurst said. "Now we got beat up a little bit but never gave up and we can know never gave up principals."
He thanked Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the rest of the GOP establishment that backed him in the race.
"Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst fought a valiant fight," Perry said. "I'm proud to call David my friend. He and I will stand shoulder to shoulder once again in the spring, fighting for Texas -- the most conservative state in America."
National conservative groups, including FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth, spent millions to help Cruz match Dewhurst's personal fortune and tighten the race. Dewhurst spent about $25 million of his own money on the race.
Dewhurst has overseen the Texas Senate as lieutenant governor since 2003, but Cruz contended Dewhurst was too moderate for sometimes showing a willingness to compromise with Democratic state senators to ensure the flow of legislation.
"It's a huge disappointment, but I think it's a sign of the times and we'll just have to see where we go, but we've got to pull together," Dewhurst supporter Cathy Brock said.
Cruz also looked to match tea party successes elsewhere this year. Richard Mourdock ousted 36-year Senate veteran Richard Lugar in Indiana, and Deb Fischer in Nebraska defeated two better-known Senate candidates. Cruz drew support from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint. Dewhurst dismissed the out-of-state backers as outsiders meddling in state politics.
Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer called Cruz's victory "monumental" and proof that "the tea party is alive and ready to own 2012."
"We could not be more proud of this historic tea party victory tonight against the Texas establishment," she said.
Enthusiasm for the Senate race kept turnout higher than normal for a runoff election that also included races for the U.S. House, the state Legislature, the Texas Supreme Court and other offices. Experts predicted more than 800,000 voters out of about 13 million who were eligible.
"It's my duty, I know I should and I do," retiree Elizabeth Reagen, 93, said outside a Dallas-area precinct. "I'm not always sure that I'm voting for the right person."
She voted for Dewhurst but said she didn't like all the attack ads that marked both sides of the campaign.
"Of course, that's part of it," Reagen said. "But the older I get, the more it bothers me."
Don Steinway, 76, a retired commercial pilot in Houston and tea party advocate, voted for Cruz.
"We're just tired of the government ignoring the Constitution," Steinway said. "I'm tired of these people who promise something for nothing."
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa called the win "the worst thing that could have happened to Texas Republicans."
"It's a tea-flavored mutiny, plain and simple," he said.
Democrats, who haven't won a statewide election in Texas since 1994, picked Sadler, from Henderson in East Texas, over retired San Antonio educator Grady Yarbrough as their choice for U.S. Senate.
Neither raised much money and Yarbrough failed to comply with federal election laws concerning where he had raised money or how he has spent it, according to the Federal Election Commission.