Neophyte Ted Cruz was the latest Republican rebel to oust a party insider.
HOUSTON - Ted Cruz, an insurgent backed by the Tea Party, defeated Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a runoff for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination that revealed a wide rift in Texas between the party establishment and restless anti-incumbent activists on the right.
With the victory, Cruz is heavily favored to win the Senate seat being vacated in November by Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison and appears likely to become a star of the national conservative movement.
Cruz, 41, is the latest conservative rebel to bring down an established party leader, tapping into simmering anger in GOP ranks nationwide.
These dissident triumphs include, in this year's primaries, the defeat of Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana by Richard Mourdock and Deb Fischer's victory over a veteran Republican for the Senate nomination in Nebraska. They also echo Marco Rubio's Senate victory in 2010 over GOP Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida.
"I love it," said Ken Yowell, a 69-year-old retired businessman who came with his wife to Cruz's victory party at a hotel in Houston, their first time ever at a political event. "We need some conservative Christians in office and someone who will fight for the economy and against abortion."
Compared to Rubio
Cruz, who is Cuban-American, has drawn comparisons to Rubio, another youthful Cuban-American who quickly became an icon of fiscal and religious conservatives around the country. Cruz's rapid ascent has already shaken up the Texas Republican Party.
"Mr. Cruz's success shows that the center of the state party has moved decisively to the right," said James Henson, a political scientist at the University of Texas. "The Republicans are in much more treacherous terrain, not because of threats from Democrats, but threats from within the party," he said.
A Harvard-trained lawyer, a former Washington official under President George W. Bush and the former solicitor general of Texas, Cruz had argued cases before the Supreme Court but never before run for office.
He turned out to be a natural campaigner, and with his implacable opposition to big government, he won the enthusiastic support of Tea Party activists in Texas and around the country.
His opponent was Dewhurst, 66, a wealthy rancher and businessman who has held the powerful elected post of lieutenant governor for nine years and was endorsed by Gov. Rick Perry and most other top party leaders as well as business and farm groups.
Dewhurst has a deeply conservative record, and often during the campaign the two candidates seemed to mimic each other on the issues, with both vowing to repeal President Obama's health care law, cut spending, get tough on the border and fight abortion. But Cruz relentlessly portrayed his opponent as a creature of the establishment who is too quick to compromise.
With indications that an upset was likely, Tea Party celebrities including Sarah Palin, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Glenn Beck and Rick Santorum came to speak on Cruz's behalf over the last several days.