It will be the Tea Party against the GOP establishment in Texas this July, with a spot in the U.S. Senate at stake.
Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the Republican establishment candidate, failed to break the required 50 percent threshold in the state's GOP primary Tuesday, forcing a July 31 runoff for the Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison.
His opponent will be former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz, the Tea Party favorite, who recently was profiled in WORLD. (See "Latin persuasion," May 19.)
Texas hasn't elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since Lloyd Bentsen in 1988, so Hutchison's Senate seat likely will stay in Republican hands regardless of the runoff's outcome. But the race will be seen as a key test of the strength of the Tea Party movement in its ongoing battle with insiders for control of the Republican Party. The most recent round of this fight went to the Tea Party crowd after Richard Mourdock defeated Sen. Richard Lugar, a six-term Senate veteran, in Indiana's May primary. (See "Still brewin'," May 9.)
More than $31.6 million had been spent in the Texas GOP primary as of May 9, according to the Federal Election Commission. That's a Texas-sized amount that is sure to get even bigger now that Dewhurst and Cruz will square off for two more months after outpacing seven other candidates on Tuesday.
Dewhurst, who is being endorsed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, is a multimillionaire who so far has spent $15 million of his own money on the campaign.
Cruz, whose father immigrated to America from Cuba as a teenager, kept pace using millions in donations from national conservative groups such as the Club for Growth, which spent $2 million to support his candidacy. Cruz also benefited from endorsements from conservative leaders such as former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. The Tea Party Express sent a bus to Texas so its members could travel the state in support of Cruz.
"The voters of Texas want a leader who will be a strong conservative and a fighter, and the lieutenant governor's record has not been conservative," Cruz told The Associated Press on Tuesday while at an election night party with supporters in Houston.
Cruz, who received 34 percent of Tuesday's vote to Dewhurst's 45 percent, accused the lieutenant governor of being a moderate who has "consistently compromised with Democrats."
"Despite a mountain of money trying to paint a very different picture, the voters of Texas held him accountable," Cruz said.
Dewhurst, who has spent nearly nine years presiding over the Texas Senate as lieutenant governor, said he is a proud conservative.
"At the same time, I will work to move what is in the best interests of the state of Texas as I always have over the last nine years," he said.
At his own election night party on Tuesday, Dewhurst attacked the outside groups that have poured money into the race to help Cruz.
"Tonight is a clear message to Washington special interests: Don't mess with Texas," he said. "Today, Republican voters made a choice between a conservative Texas businessman and Washington special interests."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.