In Texas, A Tea Party Star Is Born
August 03, 2012

David Martin Davies
Ted Cruz at a campaign rally in San Antonio.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Suddenly everybody across the nation is talking about Ted Cruz.

He’s the Tea Party Republican who won Tuesday’s primary run-off for a Texas Senate Seat. He’s also a rising Hispanic political star.

Given that Texas is a solid red state, he’s the favorite to win the seat in November. And some say Cruz’s victory is a game-changer for Hispanic Republican candidates.

“Millions of Texans, millions of Americans are rising up -- to reclaim our country to defend liberty and to restore the constitution.”

That’s how Ted Cruz celebrated his victory Tuesday night.

With 53 percent of the vote, Tea Party-backed Cruz beat Texas Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who was considered the Republican establishment’s candidate.

Cruz ran a race that focused on his conservative views. He wants to balance the budget, end legal abortion, protect the United States from the United Nations, and shrink the federal government by eliminating the IRS, The Department of Energy, The Department of Education and scale back the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Texas run-off night was considered a big night for the Tea Party and also for Hispanic Republicans.

“We always knew that there were opportunities for Hispanics to be able to win, not only in primaries but also in the general election," said George Antuna. He's with the Hispanic Republicans of Texas, which he co-founded with George P. Bush -- nephew of former President George W. Bush.

Antuna said there were other Hispanic Republicans who won their primary races in Texas and the run-off results should vanquish the old belief that Republicans here will not support a Hispanic candidate.

“That perception was there. It was a misconceived perception that I think that individuals are going to vote for a qualified candidate and that’s what they saw in these individuals," Antuna said.

But now that the primary is over, Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, says Cruz is beginning to pivot to play up his Hispanic roots in order to win in November.

“It was not to his advantage to be Hispanic in the Tea Party Republican Primary, but since he’s already won that and was able to secure the support of these right wing extremists in the Tea Party, now he’s running in the general election and he’s wanting to attract some Hispanic support," Hinojosa said.

That might be more difficult. Hinojosa points to Cruz’s Cuban roots and says that makes him an outsider and not able to represent the special needs of Mexican-Americans.

Hinojosa issued a statement calling Cruz the anti-Latino Latino who has launched constant unrelenting attacks on the Hispanic community.

“Every position that this man has ever taken on any issue is about as extreme anti-Hispanic that I have seen in my entire political life. I don’t know that he would want to be called Hispanic -- but I certainly would not call Ted Cruz Hispanic," Hinojosa said.

Paul Burka, the senior executive editor for Texas Monthly, said it is true that Cruz supports policies that many Texas Latino voters oppose: He supports the border wall and Arizona's SB 1070, and opposes the DREAM Act and bilingual education. Burka says there are different types of Hispanic voters in Texas.

“I hate to generalize, but I think there are just natural rivalries between the Valley Hispanics who regard themselves as the real Hispanics of Texas, and then the urban Hispanics of Houston and Dallas. But the Hispanic community is very diverse," Burka said. The Rio Grande Valley is heavily Democratic.

The question about the political leanings of Hispanic voters is critical to the future of the Republican Party in Texas. Burka points out they are the future voters in this state.

“They aren’t making any new white Republicans -- that factory is closed down -- this generation is dying out. Then the demographic shift will be to Hispanics. That’s when we’re going to see the Republican party either make or break," he said.

And that’s why Cruz getting the party’s Senate nomination is so critical for Republicans and why Democrats will be working so hard to cast doubt on his credentials as a true Hispanic.