-- Former state solicitor general Ted Cruz appears favored to win the Republican Senate runoff in Texas on Tuesday, which would hand the tea party a significant underdog victory in a massive state.
Tea party support stretching from high-profile figures like Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and Jim DeMint down to grassroot volunteers helped catapult Cruz to the top slot in Tuesday's primary race. And he held his lead, despite beginning the election with less name recognition and less money than his wealthy and well-connected opponent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
Matt Mackowiak, a Republican consultant who divides his time between Washington, D.C. and Austin, T.X. is a Cruz supporter and gives "enormous" credit to the tea party for Cruz's come-from-behind success.
"Look, this is a low turnout primary runoff late in the summer-- it's hot, we've never had a primary this late-- it's the most committed folks that are voting," Mackowiak told Yahoo News, "and in many ways it's the tea party activists who are not only voting but who are really acting as multipliers."
Cruz, a Cuban-American lawyer, grabbed enough votes in the May 29 primary to keep Dewhurst below the majority required to win the party nomination outright. Dewhurst placed first with 44 percent of the vote, while Cruz came in second with 34 percent, and the two headed for a runoff. Seven additional candidates received votes in the May 29 Republican primary.
Polls and anecdotal evidence suggest that supporters of third-place finisher Tom Leppert, the former Dallas mayor, were more likely to back Dewhurst, who has strong support from sitting Gov. Rick Perry and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Leppert ended up supporting Dewhurst in the runoff.
But tea party power just might overshadow Dewhurst's endorsements. Cruz has earned outside support from major organizations such as FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth and the Tea Party Express, which have boosted his financial prowess and extended his reach.
Supporters say Cruz put in the time and effort to spread his message at rallies and grassroots events around the state, even while he remained at a financial disadvantage. As of July 11, Dewhurst had raised over $24.5 million compared to Cruz's $9 million, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
"Ultimately this comes down to intensity and momentum and Cruz has created an enormous amount of buzz," Mackowiak said.
"Ted is a proven, common-sense constitutional conservative and he's a fighter and he will bring new leadership to the United States Senate," Palin, the former governor of Alaska, said at a rally for Cruz on Saturday. "He will shrink government, he will be putting it back on the side of the people, and he will defend the United States Constitution."
The tea party has been working to prove its staying power this cycle. The group has mobilized nationally for a series of high-profile races including the successful defeat of Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar, the victory of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker who faced a recall vote, as well as some contests that proved to be losses such as the Utah Senate primary.
A Cruz win will not only invigorate the tea party in and outside the state, but it also has the potential to greatly shake up the Republican establishment in Texas, which remains firmly behind Dewhurst.
Tuesday's primary will likely be the deciding contest in this open seat race, as voters choose a successor to retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Democrats lost their top pick for the race, retired Army Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.
But on Tuesday, Democrats have their own runoff to contend with to select their nominee. The candidates competing are former state Rep. Paul Sadler and retired educator Grady Yarbrough.