-- Tea party candidate Ted Cruz achieved his goal Tuesday and forced establishment favorite Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst into a runoff in the Texas U.S. Senate race.
Cruz, a Cuban-American lawyer who served as state solicitor general, along with seven additional Republicans competing in the Senate primary, held Dewhurst to 47 percent of the vote with 40 percent of precincts reporting. That meant Dewhurst was just shy of the majority required to avoid a July 31 runoff. Cruz placed second with 32 percent to secure his runoff spot.
The showing by Cruz, who was endorsed by the Tea Party Express, FreedomWorks, Sarah Palin and others connected to the tea party, marks the latest in a string of U.S. Senate victories for the movement. First, tea party challenger Dan Liljenquist forced Sen. Orrin Hatch to a primary in Utah, then Richard Mourdock defeated Sen. Dick Lugar in Indiana, and most recently, state Sen. Deb Fischer won her party's nomination in Nebraska.
Cruz and his supporters argued Dewhurst was too moderate and had lied in recent days by claiming Cruz backs amnesty for illegal immigrants.
"Dewhurst failed to get a majority because he failed to fight for conservative principles. His false attacks backfired," Sen. Jim DeMint, a Cruz supporter, tweeted Tuesday night.
Cruz' backers hope to build on new momentum ahead of the runoff, believing Dewhurst's establishment-backed candidacy has topped out with regard to support.
But the runoff, which will determine the GOP nominee to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, will mainly depend on which candidate can capture voters who turned out to support one of the other seven GOP candidates on Tuesday's ballot.
That competition centers on third place finisher Tom Leppert, the former mayor of Dallas, who received 13 percent of Tuesday's vote. Anecdotal evidence suggests supporters of Leppert are more likely to back Dewhurst than Cruz in a runoff. But Cruz supporters believe they can mobilize and capitalize on tea party energy to achieve a win in July.
Dewhurst remains experienced, personally wealthy, well-connected and will continue to enjoy support from Gov. Rick Perry and other prominent politicians.
The Democratic nominee will also be decided in a runoff which will include former state Rep. Paul Sadler, the top Democratic finisher Tuesday. The second slot for the Democratic runoff had yet to be decided as of 11:00 p.m. ET, according to the Associated Press.
Republicans are currently favored to win the seat in November regardless of the general election field after Democrats failed to keep their top pick, retired Army Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, in the race.
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