Tea Party–backed former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz easily beat Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in Texas' Republican primary runoff for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R). Cruz's big upset over the once heavily favored Dewhurst means that the 41-year-old Cruz, who has never held elected office, will almost certainly beat Democrat Paul Sadler to become Texas' first Latino U.S. senator. Here are four big takeaways from Cruz's victory:
1. The Tea Party notched a big win
National Tea Party groups contributed a lot of time and money to Cruz's election, and they hailed his victory as a show of strength and relevance. It's "monumental" proof that "the Tea Party is alive and ready to own 2012," says Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer. She has a point, says Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon. Cruz's victory is clearly "one of the biggest Tea Party upsets yet." Unlike in previous insurgencies, including the toppling of Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) this year, says Sean Sullivan at The Washington Post, establishment pick "Dewhurst didn't implode" — he raised and spent tons of money, avoided any big mistakes, and never committed any conservative heresies.
2. But this is a muddy victory
What's notable about the race, says Allysia Finlay at The Wall Street Journal, is how it ignited a GOP "civil war": Cruz-friendly Tea Party groups and icons like Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) versus the entire Texas Republican establishment, including Tea Party stalwarts like Gov. Rick Perry (R) and state Sen. Dan Patrick. The push for Cruz wasn't about ideology, says David Weigel at Slate. Both candidates are self-described "constitutional conservatives," and nobody convincingly argued that Dewhurst is "unacceptably moderate." The "inescapable logic" of backing Cruz is that at 66, Dewhurst would see the Senate as a "golden watch job," while his young Latino challenger "could theoretically serve in the Senate for six or seven terms," making a real, genuinely conservative impact.
3. Still, Cruz is a rising star
The resounding win immediately makes Cruz "a force to be reckoned with in the nation's capital — an overnight A-lister of Republicans to watch," says David Catanese at Politico. He's already earning comparisons to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a fellow young Cuban-American, and even President Obama, a similarly "telegenic constitutional lawyer with a Harvard Law degree and parents with different backgrounds." Those comparisons don't do Cruz justice, says Deroy Murdock at National Review. He's "hardcore, tough, and eloquent, nearly to a fault" — a former debating champ, "Cruz is to public speaking what Michael Phelps was to swimming." His very presence in the "flaccid" Senate "should lift the performance of the entire Republican team."
4. This is more proof that Latino pols are in demand
Cruz's victory, coupled with the recent announcement that San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro will give the keynote at this year's Democratic National Convention, show that both parties have an eye on America's fast-growing Latino population, says Elizabeth Hartfield at ABC News. Courting the increasingly Democratic Latino vote is imperative to "today's old-white-people GOP," says Ed Kilgore at The New Republic, and Cruz is an important player in their outreach strategy. In fact, it's likely he "represents a Hispanic insurance policy" in case Rubio falters. "I'm already opening a Word file to write my 'Cruz wins national attention for prime-time Republican convention speech' story," says Slate's Weigel.