Ted Cruz didn't win Texas' Republican Senate primary outright Tuesday. But his showing was strong enough to force the race into a midsummer runoff election and demonstrate that the Tea Party movement is far from dead.
Cruz, a Tea Party-backed candidate, overcame a massive deficit in the polls against the Republican establishment's hand-picked candidate, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and, by holding Dewhurst below 50 percent of the vote, forced the race into a runoff.
Cruz's success comes just weeks after the Tea Party notched a victory in a Republican Senate primary in Indiana, evidence, Tea Party officials said, that the movement that dominated the 2010 congressional elections remains a force to be reckoned with.
"In 2012, the Tea Party tidal wave is even stronger," Cruz told The Washington Examiner on Wednesday.
Cruz said his success was the result of a large grassroots effort by national and state Tea Party groups that spent thousands of hours erecting signs, making calls and knocking on doors on his behalf.
"A year ago," he said, "nobody in the state of Texas gave our campaign a prayer, and yet [on Tuesday], the people rejected the entrenched moderate incumbent."
National Tea Party organizations are also celebrating. Cruz's second-place finish comes less than a month after their candidate, Richard Mourdock, defeated six-term GOP Sen. Richard Lugar in the Indiana Senate primary.
The Tea Party also claims credit for forcing another six-term GOP incumbent, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, into a runoff election scheduled for June 26.
"It proves again that the Tea Party movement is alive and well," said Amy Kremer, chairwoman of the Tea Party Express. "Just because we are not having rallies out in the streets that the media can use as a visual doesn't mean we are not there putting signs out, going door to door, and making phone calls and hosting meetings."
Brendan Steinhauser, the federal and state campaigns director for the nation Tea Party group Freedomworks, said Cruz benefited from momentum that has been building since Mourdock's win. Indeed, Indiana's Tea Party activists were making calls and sending emails on behalf of Cruz's campaign.
"They were all fired up," Steinhauser told The Examiner. "They saw this as a victory for them as well."
The Senate's biggest Tea Party champion, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has been working on behalf of candidates he hopes will push Senate Republicans further to the right, including Mourdock and Cruz.
"We must have new, conservative senators who believe in the principles of freedom that made this country great and are willing to fight for them each day," DeMint wrote to supporters.
Dewhurst, who had the backing of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, outspend Cruz on television and radio ads.
Cruz, a former Texas solicitor general, charged that Dewhurst would work with Democrats to raise taxes and expand government spending. The two candidates also accused each other of being soft on illegal immigration.
Political experts agree that Texas' July 31 runoff election will hinge on voter turnout. Cruz said the runoff is likely to draw the most enthusiastic, best-informed voters, and that should favor him. Others give the edge to Dewhurst, who could attract voters who had backed other candidates in the Republican Senate primary.