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Last updated: May 30, 2012 8:15 am
Texas Republicans will vote again to elect a new senator after a strong Tea Party challenge and a crowded field denied David Dewhurst, the state’s lieutenant-governor and establishment favourite, an outright victory in the Senate primary race on Tuesday night, even as Mitt Romney clinched the Republican presidential nomination.
Failing to win 50 per cent of the vote, Mr Dewhurst will have to proceed to a run-off on July 31 against Ted Cruz, a Cuban-American lawyer who once served as the state’s solicitor general and has the support of conservative groups including FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Express.
But Tuesday night’s primaries were conclusive for Mitt Romney, who has now won the 1,144 convention delegates needed to clinch the Republican presidential nomination, according to the Associated Press.
“I am grateful and humbled by your support through this process. We did it!” Mr Romney said in an email to supporters soon after the results came in. “This has been an extraordinary journey. And yet it’s only the beginning,” he said, asking for donations of as little as $3 for a “campaign to unite every American who knows in his or her heart that we can do better”.
After a two-month delay, Texas Republicans finally got their chance to vote on Tuesday. In the primary to replace retiring Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Mr Dewhurst had 45 per cent of the votes while Mr Cruz had 34 per cent, with 99 per cent of the vote counted.
A candidate needed a majority to win outright, a tricky challenge given that there were nine candidates seeking the nomination.
“It was always going to be a little bit of a long shot to win with 50-plus per cent,” Mr Dewhurst said in a pre-recorded interview with local Houston TV, according to excerpts released to reporters.
With Texas dyed-in-the-wool Republican, the winner of the primary is almost certain to win the Senate seat in the November general election.
The conservative Tea Party movement was poised to declare another electoral victory after denying the Republican establishment an outright win in the Texas primary. It hopes that Mr Cruz will be able to scoop up some of the opposition to Mr Dewhurst to defeat the frontrunner in the second round.
The movement has been enthused by the shock victory of Richard Mourdock, the Tea Party-backed candidate who managed to oust six-term Republican senator Dick Lugar in the Indiana primary earlier this month.
The Club for Growth, the small-government lobby group whose political action committee spent $2.5m supporting Mr Cruz, vowed to continue spending during the run-off.
“Despite millions of dollars of desperate and negative attacks, David Dewhurst must now face true conservative Ted Cruz one-on-one…and that’s David Dewhurst’s worst nightmare,” said Chris Chocola, the Club’s president, calling Mr Cruz “a champion of economic freedom”.
“Despite David Dewhurst’s massive financial advantage, Texas Republicans are just beginning to learn the truth about Dewhurst’s support for tax increases and government healthcare, and they are starting to conclude that he’s wrong for Texas,” Mr Chocola said.
The race has been particularly brutal, with Mr Cruz decrying Mr Dewhurst as a “moderate” and the lieutenant-governor implying that his rival supports granting amnesty to illegal immigrants.
The Cruz campaign denounced the claim, saying that he had long been a critic of amnesty proposals.
“That is the act of a desperate man clinging to power,” Mr Cruz said during a news conference in Fort Worth, according to The Dallas Morning News. “His lies are getting more and more ridiculous.”
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