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SAN ANTONIO - On a night anti-establishment momentum propelled Republican outsiders to victory in several Texas runoff races, Ted Cruz emerged as a new darling of the national tea party movement with a come-from-behind effort to secure his party's nomination for U.S. Senate.
The former Texas solicitor general seized the GOP nomination Tuesday by defeating longtime Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who had won the initial primary in May but fell short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff. The success of insurgent candidates was evident down the ballot, particularly those backed by tea party groups.
It was among several runoffs pitting mainline Republicans in Texas against conservative insurgents, including races for the U.S. House, the state Legislature, the Texas Supreme Court and other offices.
Cruz will be heavily favored in November to succeed Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is retiring. Even though he and Dewhurst have similar ideological views, the primary gained national attention as a test of the tea party's strength.
John Devine, who gained notoriety for fighting to keep the Ten Commandments on display in his Houston courtroom, topped David Medina and has no Democratic opposition in November for a spot on the Texas Supreme Court. In the Texas Legislature, veteran Republican Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio lost to emergency room physician Donna Campbell, a tea party leader making her second bid for office.
And senior House committee chairmen Rep. Sid Miller of Stephenville and Rep. Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville were both bounced in anti-incumbent, tea party insurgencies. Miller lost to family doctor J.D. Sheffield, of Gatesville. Hopson lost to Travis Clardy, an attorney from Nacogdoches.
For Cruz, the campaign continues now to November, when he'll square off against Democratic former state Rep. Paul Sadler.
"This is a victory for the grass roots," Cruz told supporters in Houston. "This is how elections are supposed to be decided, by we the people."
Dewhurst touted his 14 years of state government experience in the race against Cruz.
"This is not quite the way I envisioned the evening," said Dewhurst, adding that he had spoken with Cruz, congratulated him "on a hard-fought victory" and offered support.
Cruz looked to match tea party successes elsewhere this year. Richard Mourdock ousted 36-year Senate veteran Richard Lugar in Indiana, and Deb Fischer in Nebraska defeated two better-known Senate candidates.
Cruz drew support from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint. Dewhurst dismissed the out-of-state backers as outsiders meddling in state politics.
Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer said Cruz's victory is "monumental" and proof that "the tea party is alive and ready to own 2012."
"We could not be more proud of this historic tea party victory tonight against the Texas establishment," she said.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa called the win "the worst thing that could have happened to Texas Republicans."
"It's a tea-flavored mutiny, plain and simple," he said.
Enthusiasm for the Senate race kept turnout higher than normal for a runoff election. Turnout topped the 800,000 voters forecast by experts but still was well shy of the some 13 million who were eligible.
"It's my duty, I know I should and I do," retiree Elizabeth Reagen, 93, said outside a Dallas-area precinct. "I'm not always sure that I'm voting for the right person."
She voted for Dewhurst but said she didn't like all the attack ads that marked both sides of the campaign.
"Of course, that's part of it," Reagen said. "But the older I get, the more it bothers me."
Don Steinway, 76, a retired commercial pilot in Houston and tea party advocate, voted for Cruz.
"I'm tired of these people who promise something for nothing," Steinway said.
Democrats, who haven't won a statewide election in Texas since 1994, picked Sadler, from Henderson in East Texas, over retired San Antonio educator Grady Yarbrough as their choice for U.S. Senate. Neither raised much money and Yarbrough failed to comply with federal election laws concerning where he had raised money or how he has spent it, according to the Federal Election Commission.
In all, there were 25 Republican and 12 Democratic runoffs, including two Railroad Commission races, one Supreme Court, three State Board of Education races, eight U.S. House and 17 Texas Legislature races.
Among them were fierce Democratic congressional races in Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio.
State Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth squeaked out a narrow Democratic victory over former state Rep. Domingo Garcia in a newly created congressional district in the Metroplex, one of four new Texas districts thanks to the state's booming population.
In San Antonio, former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez failed in his effort to regain his seat from Republican Quico Canseco, falling to state Rep. Pete Gallego, a rising star in the Democratic Party.
Republicans had similar congressional battles.
Roger Williams, a close ally of Gov. Perry, beat tea party-favorite Wes Riddle in an Austin-area district. Along the Gulf Coast, state Rep. Randy Weber of Pearland defeated Felicia Harris, a Republican party activist, to secure the GOP nomination in the district now represented by retiring Ron Paul. Weber will face former Democratic Rep. Nick Lampson in November.
In far Southeast Texas, former Congressman Steve Stockman defeated financial planner Stephen Takach for the GOP nomination in another new district.