In Texas Senate race, Tea Party candidate forces a runoff

Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Ted Cruz talks with Eric Derringon, of Houston before his election watch party, Tuesday, May 29, 2012, in the JW Marriott Houston in Houston. Nick de la Torre,AP Photo/Houston Chronicle

Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Ted Cruz talks with Eric Derringon, of Houston before his election watch party, Tuesday, May 29, 2012, in the JW Marriott Houston in Houston.
Nick de la Torre,AP Photo/Houston Chronicle
(CBS News) Ted Cruz, a Tea Party-backed Republican lawyer, will go head-to-head with Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in a runoff contest for the state's Republican Senate nomination.

Dewhurst, the long-standing favorite for the nomination, fell short of the 50 percent he needed to avoid a runoff. With 82 percent of the votes counted, Dewhurst had pulled in 45 percent support to Cruz's 33 percent support. Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert earned 14 percent, and former NFL running back and ESPN announcer Craig James earned 4 percent.

All four candidates were running to replace retiring Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The winner of the July 31 runoff will compete against the Democratic nominee this November.

In Texas, a rising conservative star takes on the establishment

Cruz, a Cuban-American lawyer with strong conservative bona fides, gained momentum in recent weeks on the heels of notable establishment losses in other states: Earlier this month, longtime Republican Senator Richard Lugar lost his Republican primary contest to the Tea Party-backed Richard Mourdock; a week later, Nebraska state Senator Deb Fischer pulled off a surprise upset victory against establishment choice Jon Bruning in Nebraska's GOP Senate primary.

Leading up to Tuesday's contest, Cruz contended that he'd be in a good position to motivate his supporters in the mid-summer runoff, when turnout is likely to be low.

But he faces a formidable challenger in Dewhurst, a well-known Texas Republican who has the backing of Governor Rick Perry, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and two super PACs.

Cruz, meanwhile, has the support of Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Jim DeMint, and the Tea Party-aligned groups the Club for Growth, Freedomworks for America, and the Senate Conservatives Fund.

The race has already been costly: Outside groups have spent millions on behalf of both candidates, as have the candidates' campaigns. The final days leading up to Tuesday's primary were characterized by increasingly nasty attack ads, one of which targeted Cruz for allegedly supporting immigration amnesty, a charge Cruz denies.

Texas primary results
CBS News estimated delegate count
Full primary campaign results

Both candidates have also poured significant personal resources into the campaign, although Dewhurst, who made millions prior to taking office as Lieutenant Governor in 2007, has what Texas pollster Jim Henson called "relatively bottomless pockets."

Still, Henson says that Cruz's second-place finish Tuesday night will likely give him a boost in outside funding.

"If Cruz gets into a runoff and he's still viewed in this frame of another anti-establishment candidate knocking off a guy in a suit then he may be able to earn enough outside money to make a go of it," Henson said in an interview before the primary.

Still, Cruz has his work cut out for him.

In a statement after the Texas polls closed Tuesday, Perry urged his constituents to stand behind Dewhurst.

"Now, more than ever, we must work to send a proven conservative leader like David Dewhurst to Washington, where he can put the Texas approach to work to overhaul Washington," he said.

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