The Next Marco Rubio? Texas Tea Party Republican Ted Cruz Forces Runoff

Image credit: Nick De la Torre/Houston Chronicle/AP Photo

There was a major Tea Party victory in Texas Tuesday night.

No, not Romney's victory in the Texas presidential primary.

In the Republican Senate primary, a Cuban-American Tea Partier named Ted Cruz, 41, has forced the establishment candidate, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, into a runoff, which will take place July 31.

Dewhurst, with the support of Rick Perry's political network and millions of dollars of his own money, had been the prohibitive favorite. Tea Partiers, however, saw him as this year's Charlie Crist, an insufficiently conservative establishment choice like the former Florida governor who lost to Marco Rubio in a Senate race.

For most Tea Party groups, Cruz's campaign is this year's number-one priority. They see him as another Rubio: a young, conservative, Hispanic  firebrand. He has an impressive background. A national collegiate debate champion, he has already served as the Texas solicitor general.

Cruz has been endorsed by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and a bevy of Tea Party groups. Dewhurst has the support of Perry and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Dewhurst, 66, and his allies spent millions on ads attacking Cruz as pro-amnesty on immigration, a tool of of China and, even worse, a Canadian.

Cruz came in second (with 34 percent of the vote) to Dewhurst (47 percent). But with the seven other candidates now out of the race, Cruz has what he needed: a one-on-one race against Dewhurst.