HOUSTON - Newly minted U.S. Senate nominee Ted Cruz said Wednesday that he hopes the tea party and the Texas Republicans are now synonymous, asserting that the grass-roots movement is bringing the "party back to the policies we should have been defending in the first place."
Still basking in the glow of his monster upset of establishment GOP favorite Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in Tuesday's runoff for the nomination to replace retiring Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the former state solicitor general said, "I think the tea party is one of the most incredible movements in politics in modern history."
"There are folks in the media that try to portray the tea party as radical and extreme. The tea party are everyday Texans, everyday Americans that believe in common sense answers, living within our means, not spending more than we have and not saddling our kids and grandkid with a crushing debt," Cruz said.
Addressing reporters in hometown of Houston, Cruz was asked if the movement and the mainstream party were now one and the same. He didn't mince word.
I hope so," Cruz said.
But others pointed to a growing rift within the party since so many Texas Republicans lined up behind Dewhurst, who seemed until the last few weeks like a slam-dunk in the race. Gov. Rick Perry endorsed the lieutenant governor, as did much of the state's Republican establishment, and even baseball legend Nolan Ryan.
Overseeing the state Senate from the powerful lieutenant governor's post since 2003, Dewhurst helped run some of the most-conservative legislative sessions in state history. But he was targeted as too moderate by national conservative groups for occasionally working with Democratic lawmakers on key legislation.
The anti-tax, Washington-based Club for Growth spent millions on ads attacking Dewhurst, and Cruz picked up endorsements from such tea party superstars as U.S. Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Rand Paul of Kentucky, as well as talk show personalities Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin even stumped in suburban Houston five days before the runoff to help push Cruz over the top.
The 41-year-old Cruz beat Dewhurst by 13 percentage points during the runoff, a resounding victory made all the more remarkable considering Cruz lost the May 31 primary to Dewhurst by 10 points. He only survived to a second round of balloting because no candidate won a majority among nine original GOP senatorial hopefuls. But simply making it that far helped Cruz seize summer momentum his campaign never relinquished.
"There were a lot of folks who had written us off, who said this was impossible," Cruz said. "Thousands and thousands of people put their energy into this happening."
Cruz meets former state Rep. Paul Sadler in November's general election, but in deeply red-state Texas, he's the overwhelming favorite. Hutchison did not endorse either Cruz or Dewhurst previously but said Wednesday that "Ted's victory is also an early indicator of the national mood."
"Voters are seeking conservative alternatives to what they see as over encroachment by the federal government," she said in a statement.
If he wins in the general election, he will become Texas' first Hispanic U.S. senator.
"My dad had tears in his eyes last night," Cruz said.
Cruz's father immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1957 and took a job as a dishwasher to start a new life.
The state's other U.S. senator, Republican John Cornyn, said "this is a major victory for Ted Cruz and a real upset, and I think we all recognize that."
"It's no secret that there's a lot of anger directed at Congress and the federal government in general and people are looking for fighters," Cornyn said during a conference call Wednesday.
Asked if Cruz would arrive in Washington a tea party star-in-the-making, he said "I think a lot of this is really a matter of style, not of principle."
"As I said before the election, I didn't believe that Lt. Gov. Dewhurst or Ted Cruz would vote differently in more than 1 percent of the issues that came before the Senate," Cornyn said.
Cruz was asked if his win was a rejection of Perry's leadership, and responded: "I don't think so at all."
"What I do think last night was, it underscored the importance of the grassroots, that elections are not decided by a handful of insiders," he said.
Copyright 2012 by Click2Houston.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.