By Corrie MacLaggan
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz scored a stunning upset over a longtime Texas state officeholder in a Republican U.S. Senate primary runoff on Tuesday, transforming Cruz into a national conservative star and marking a resurgence of the movement to shrink the size of U.S. government.
Cruz, 41, a former state solicitor general who has never held elected office, became the third insurgent Republican this year to defeat an establishment Republican in a U.S. Senate primary.
He scored a surprisingly comfortable victory with about 56 percent of the vote to about 44 percent for Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who a year ago was considered the frontrunner.
“They said this was impossible,” Cruz told a roaring crowd of supporters in Houston on Tuesday night. “They said I couldn’t do it. And you know, they were right. I couldn’t do it, but you could and you did it. Tonight is a victory for the grass roots.”
Cruz will be a strong favorite to win the election in November against Paul Sadler, who won the Democratic primary on Tuesday, because Texas has not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. The Senate seat is being vacated by Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Most Texans had never heard of Cruz when he took on Dewhurst, 66, a wealthy businessman who spent $19 million of his own money on the race and had the support of top Texas Republicans including Governor Rick Perry.
“When Ted gets to Washington, he’s going to be seen correctly as a giant-killer,” said Sal Russo, co-founder and chief strategist of Tea Party Express, the nation’s largest Tea Party political action committee.
Cruz spent a year and a half crisscrossing the state, introducing himself at Tea Party meetings and Republican women’s club gatherings as a “constitutional conservative.”
And he drew support from conservative stars such as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and money from national conservative groups such as the Club for Growth. That group’s political action committee spent $5.5 million to support Cruz, the organization said.
Cruz, whose father came to Texas from Cuba with $100 sewn into his underwear, would become the first
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