(Photo: REUTERS/Eric Thayer)
Tea party activists can add another notch to their belt now that they've given Republican Ted Cruz a victory over the party's establishment candidate in the Texas race for U.S. Senate. The 13-point victory over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst signals a new day for the movement – not only in Texas but also in other red states.
Although his credentials are impressive, Cruz owes much of his success to the tea party and their expansive network of grassroots volunteers.
"Ted Cruz's victory is a victory for all Texans and Americans who support limited government, fiscal responsibility and free market ideas," said Tea Party Patriots co-Founder Jenny Beth Martin in a written statement.
"Ted Cruz's come-from-behind, tea party-supported victory is further proof that Americans are no longer willing to tolerate elected official delivered to them by the political and special interests that are responsible for so many of the problems we have in Washington and across our nation."
Tea party leaders and activists have already made their mark in several national races. Earlier this year Sen. Richard Lugar, who had represented Indiana in the Senate since he late seventies, was ousted by State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, tea party backed candidate.
Afterward, Indiana, the grassroots movement turned their attention to other states and they have no intention of stopping until they can change the culture in Washington to reflect a more fiscally conservative tone.
"Texas built on Indiana," Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, a Washington-based group that helps finance conservative anti-establishment candidates, told The Washington Post. "Activists all over the country are watching Texas. We've kind of nationalized the race."
Yet the significance of Cruz's crushing victory will take the tea party into the Republican convention with several victories over more mainstream candidates that have been the backbone of the GOP of years – and in some cases – decades.
"The Republican Party is changing," one senior Republican strategist granted anonymity to speak candidly told The Washington Post. "There are new and emerging leaders who speak to a broader audience. And it is badly needed."
Now it is up to the new breed of Republicans like Cruz and other elected political stars such as Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida and Gov. Bobby Jindel of Louisiana to motivate the party's newer participants.
Cruz's rock-star status was well in hand even before Tuesday's victory. Born in Canada and the son of a Cuban immigrant, Cruz impressed people during his formative years by memorizing the entire constitution and traveling the state giving speeches on conservative ideas.
He left Texas to pursue an education at Princeton, where he was a champion debater and founding editor of the Harvard Latino Law Review. After a high-profile legal career, including a clerkship with former Chief Justice William Rehnquist and jobs in the Bush administration, Cruz was appointed solicitor general of Texas where he wrote 70 Supreme Court briefs and argued in front of the nation's highest court nine times.
He had garnered endorsements from Sen. Jim DeMint and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin conservative organizations like Freedom Works and Club for Growth.
Texas Gov. and former GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry endorsed Dewhurst, his second-in-command, yet his support did not seem to carry weight in a run-off election mostly made up of the party's most conservative voters.
However, one of Cruz's biggest admirers happens to be Professor Robert George of Princeton University, who served as an academic adviser to Cruz in the early 1990s when Cruz was a student.
"I'd have predicted that he would be a professor, not a politician," George told The Houston Chronicle. Cruz stood out even among his Ivy League peers as "intellectually and morally serious," writing his thesis on the separation of powers.
Cruz now faces Democrat Paul Sadler, a former state representative in the general election in November. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R) now holds the seat and is retiring at the end of this term.