Former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, center, greets supporters at a voting precinct Tuesday, July 31, 2012, in Houston. Pat Sullivan/AP
Reading Time: 3 minutes

In a Texas-sized spending battle that attracted more than $14 million in outside money, Ted Cruz upset the party establishment favorite Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the in the state’s contentious Republican primary runoff election for U.S. Senate.

Cruz, a tea party favorite and former Texas solicitor general, beat Dewhurst 56.8 percent to 43.2 percent according to election returns as of Wednesday morning. The race was easily the most expensive congressional primary fight this election.

Dewhurst, owner of an energy company, outraised Cruz 3-1, having brought in more than $33 million — $25 million from his own pocket. Of that sum, Dewhurst gave his campaign about $8.5 million just in the last three weeks of the runoff.

Cruz raised $10.2 million, with $1.4 million of coming from the candidate.

But super PAC and other outside spending was more balanced and arguably made the difference. Pro-Cruz groups spent about $8 million while pro-Dewhurst groups spent roughly $6.5 million this election cycle.Cruz and Dewhurst are fighting for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Pro-Cruz advertisements linked Dewhurst to the Texas GOP establishment, attacking the lieutenant governor’s political career and touting Cruz’s political inexperience as evidence of principled conservatism.

The runoff attracted more spending than the May 29 primary, where Dewhurst failed to win the majority necessary to avoid a runoff. Spending by outside groups rose dramatically once it became a two-man race. All outside groups spent approximately $6.5 million ahead of the May 29 primary and about $8 million since.

Cruz, a Harvard graduate and high-profile attorney, outshined Dewhurst’s measured delivery in the past two weeks’ debates and campaign appearances, according to Southern Methodist University’s Cal Jillson.

“Cruz is a very articulate lawyer,” Jillson said. “The debates between the two have shown Cruz at his best.”

The anti-tax group Club for Growth Action spent more than $5.5 million to help elect Cruz, far more than it has spent on any race thus far, nearly all of it ripping into Dewhurst.Tea party kingmaker Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., played a major role. The senator converted his leadership PAC to a super PAC. The group, now known as the Senate Conservatives Action Fund, spent about $1.3 million. FreedomWorks for America, another tea party group, spent more than $470,000.

Dewhurst also benefited from super PAC spending. Texas Conservatives, funded by wealthy Texans Bob Perry and Harold Simmons, spent $5.5 million, all of it on ads attacking Cruz.

In the final days leading up to the runoff, Cruz got help from former TD Ameritrade CEO Joe Ricketts’ Ending Spending Action Fund super PAC, pro-Ron Paul super PAC Endorse Liberty, the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama and the political action committee of the Tea Party Express.

Jillson said a tea party win would likely send a message to Republican elected officials in Texas: “scoot to the right.”

Reporter Michael Beckel contributed to this report.

Help support this work

Public Integrity doesn’t have paywalls and doesn’t accept advertising so that our investigative reporting can have the widest possible impact on addressing inequality in the U.S. Our work is possible thanks to support from people like you.