DALLAS (AP) — Mitt Romney’s victory in Texas wasn’t enough to put him over the top but Election Day was sweet for tea party favorite Ted Cruz, who trounced his Democratic opponent to become the state’s first Hispanic U.S. Senator.
Republicans haven’t lost a statewide election since 1994 — the party’s longest streak in the country — and their dominance continued Tuesday. But Democrats made some key inroads, picking up a seat in Congress, ending the GOP supermajority in the state House and staving off its bid for one in the Texas Senate. A Republican incumbent also lost on the State Board of Education.
The Democratic gains happened on the same night Romney grabbed Texas’ 38 electoral votes by nearly a 3-2 margin. And Cruz, the 41-year-old former state solicitor general, completed his once unthinkable journey from virtual unknown to winner of retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat by an even larger margin.
He beat former Democratic state Rep. Paul Sadler by more than 15 percentage points — then vowed to check President Barack Obama at every turn as he headed to Washington.
“If he is willing to work across the aisle, if he is willing to work to reduce the deficit, reduce the debt, to tackle entitlements, if he’s willing to reduce the burdens on small businesses and get people back to work than I will happily work with him,” Cruz told The Associated Press.
But if not, “Then I will work every day to prevent us from continuing down that path because I think that it is causing enormous suffering and damage to the people of this country,” he said.
In congressional races, Texas is getting four new representatives thanks to adding 4.3 million residents between 2000 and 2010. Republicans took 22 seats and Democrats captured 14, highlighted by state Rep. Pete Gallego’s narrow ouster of freshman Republican Francisco “Quico” Canseco in a sprawling district stretching from San Antonio to eastern El Paso County.
Gallego, hailing from tiny Alpine, called his victory “truly unbelievable.”
“I intend to fight for every constituent,” he said, “not just those at one end of the political spectrum or other.”
In another high-profile contest, Republican state Rep. Randy Weber slipped by former Democratic Congressman Nick Lampson in the Gulf Coast district being vacated by retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.
Republicans lost their 102-vote supermajority in the Texas House that had allowed them to pass legislation even if Democrats failed to show up for work. And in the state Senate, Fort Worth Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis narrowly bested tea party Republican state Rep. Mark Shelton — holding the GOP to 19 of 31 seats.
On the State Board of Education, Democrat Martha Dominguez knocked off GOP incumbent Carlos “Charlie” Garza in an El Paso-area region.
Cruz’s victory, meanwhile, was only possible after he shook Texas politics to the core during the Republican primary, shocking one of the state’s most formidable establishment figures, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Backed by Gov. Rick Perry and the state’s GOP mainstream, Dewhurst had overseen the powerful state Senate since 2003 and poured more than $20 million of his personal fortune into his campaign.
The son of a Cuban immigrant, Cruz began the primary polling at 2 percent. Born in Canada while his parents were working there, Cruz grew up mostly in Houston and has a fiery, populist oratory style he honed while becoming a debate champion at Princeton and earning his law degree from Harvard.
He completed a two-year slog of a campaign that took him to dozens of candidate forums Dewhurst skipped. He spent hundreds of hours convincing grassroots groups that a vote for Dewhurst was a vote for moderation, and that he was the true conservative in the race.
Since winning the primary, Cruz has vaulted to national prominence, snagging a prime speaking slot at the Republican National Convention and becoming a fixture on political talk shows.
Cruz also has moved to the center and even campaigned with Dewhurst and attended fundraisers with Perry, working to mend fences with the state GOP mainstream. But he said Tuesday he wouldn’t be beholden to any party moving forward.
“What Texans want is not politicians of either party who simply give speeches,” he said. “They want serious leaders who will work to solve these problems and that’s what I intend to do.”
Cruz also said he hasn’t forgotten the grassroots conservatives who got him this far.
“I think the tea party remains one of the most exciting things to happen in politics in decades,” he said. “I am honored to have the support of so many Texans, so many tea party leaders across our state.”
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