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The Brief: Aug. 1, 2012

A stunner of an end to a months-long electoral slog has turned Ted Cruz into Texas' newest political celebrity.

Republican Senate candidate Ted Cruz greets supporters outside a polling station in Houston, Tuesday, July 31, 2012.

The Big Conversation:

A stunner of an end to a months-long electoral slog has turned Ted Cruz into Texas' newest political celebrity.

On Tuesday, Cruz, the former state solicitor general, defeated Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the runoff for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate by more than 10 points, 57 to 43 percent.

“Millions of Texans," Cruz told supporters during his victory speech in Houston, "millions of Americans are rising up to reclaim our country, defend liberty and restore the Constitution.”

As recently as a month ago, the race looked like Dewhurst's to lose, but a delayed primary and an energized group of activist supporters helped Cruz overcome Dewhurst's huge financial advantage and established name. Since last night, Cruz has drawn inevitable comparisons to Republican rising star Marco Rubio, the U.S. senator from Florida, and has turned the national spotlight toward Texas politics in a way not seen since Gov. Rick Perry's run for president.

Much of the national media has pegged Cruz's victory as yet another display of a resurgent Tea Party movement that this year has helped propel insurgent conservatives to victory over establishment Republicans in states like Indiana and Nebraska. 

But as Tribune's Ross Ramsey recently wrote, that story line misses a key difference in the Texas race: Little separated Cruz and Dewhurst on the issues. Agitated Texans, in other words, have taken their frustration out on anyone even associated with incumbency, ideology aside. The race, therefore, largely turned on differences in style, amplified by the types of endorsements each received: state leaders like Perry for Dewhurst; high-profile conservatives like Sarah Palin for Cruz.

As Jim Henson, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin and Tribune pollster, told The New York Times, "Mr. Cruz’s success shows that the center of the state party has moved decisively to the right. The Republicans are in much more treacherous terrain, not because of threats from Democrats, but threats from within the party."

Voters' anti-incumbent attitude showed up further down the ballot, too. In Senate District 25, longtime state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, lost to emergency room doctor and political newcomer Donna Campbell. Republican Supreme Court Justice David Medina also lost to John Devine, a former district court judge. And GOP state Reps. Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville, Jim Landtroop of Plainview and Sid Miller of Stephenville also lost their runoffs.

One exception: Congressional District 25, where Roger Williams, a former Texas secretary of state, beat the Tea Party-backed Wes Riddle, who tried to paint Williams as an establishment figure.

As for Cruz, he now heads into a general election against Democrat Paul Sadler, the former state representative who easily beat retired teacher Grady Yarbrough in their primary on Tuesday but faces long odds in November.

Culled:

  • Though Ted Cruz was born in Canada, his rising national star already has reporters wondering aloud — and, apparently, getting some coy answers — about his presidential aspirations. As Politico notes today at the end of a write-up about Cruz: "People have asked about it now and then," an aide confessed. When asked if Cruz being born in Calgary, Canada would complicate a future presidential run, a top adviser paused before saying he believed his candidate would be eligible as a natural-born citizen. But he first wanted to check with the smartest lawyer he knew — Ted Cruz — who was tied up celebrating Tuesday night.
  • Tuesday's runoffs merely decided the nominees for November's general election, but as Ross Ramsey notes, most races — by virtue of Texas' political maps — are virtually over. Still, last night's results left a few competetive races come fall, including one in CD-14, where Democrat Nick Lampson will face state Rep. Randy Weber, and another in CD-23, where state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, will face U.S. Rep. Francisco "Quico" Canseco of San Antonio. Find more races to watch here.
  • The runoff may have dominated news on Tuesday, but San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro stole some attention earlier in the day. Castro was named the keynote speaker for the Democratic National Convention in September. The awarding of the prime speaking role — which in past years gone to the likes of Barbara JordanAnn Richards and Barack Obama — to Castro has again sparked speculation about his political aspirations. But Castro, long seen as a rising star in Texas, brushed off the buzz. "When I thought about getting into public service, this was the role that I looked forward to, and it’s exciting to actually see progress in San Antonio. So I can’t see anything out there that would change my mind," he told the Tribune.

"I have great respect for Lt. Gov. Dewhurst. However, I'm running for LtGov in 2014." — Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson in a text message after Tuesday night's election results

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