Texas’ newly nominated U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz is proof that political messiahs rarely come as people expect them.
With his victory in the state’s GOP primary runoff Tuesday, Cruz suddenly is primed to become the most powerful Latino politician in the state’s history—something Hispanics in Texas had long hoped for.
“The surprise, though, is that Ted Cruz is not exactly what or who Hispanics thought he would be when one of our own did win one of the highest offices in the state,” longtime Texas Democrat James Duarte of Waco, a retired state administrator, told VOXXI.
“But who’s to say.”
Cruz, the former Texas solicitor general and Tea Party darling who beat Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, still needs to defeat Democratic opponent Paul Sadler in November, though local experts believe there is an inevitability of that happening.
“His chances of winning in November in a red state like Texas are 90 to 95 percent,” says Wayne Slater, an analyst with the Dallas Morning News.
Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994.
The winner in November succeeds longtime Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who stepped down.
Cruz’s win was seen as another triumph for the Tea Party nationally, but in Texas his win came as a bittersweet moment for Hispanics, who have never had a governor or U.S. Senator in the Lone Star State’s long history.
Since the 1960s, in the days of the Chicano movement in the Southwest, Latinos had held out hope for any number of Hispanic politicians that had been rising stars.
In the early 1970s, Texas Monthly magazine hailed Leonel Castillo, then the popular controller of the city of Houston, as someone who could became the state’s first Latino governor.
Castillo never rose to statewide office.
A decade later, it was then San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros who captured the imagination of Latinos who thought he one day would be serving in the U.S. Senate or running the state as governor.
In 1984, Democratic Presidential nominee Walter Mondale even considered Cisneros as a possible running mate.
Cisneros, who became secretary of housing and urban development in the Clinton administration, eventually saw his political career end in scandal and disgrace over lying to the FBI about a mistress and money he had paid her.
But both Castillo and Cisneros were Democrats, long traditionally the party of Hispanics in the state.
Cruz being a Republican breaks that mold, as does his conservative credentials and Tea Party membership.
Cruz, 41, is also Cuban American in a state where the overwhelming majority of Hispanics are Mexican American.
“He’s not exactly what many would have envisioned as the savior of Latino politics,” says Houston mechanic Henry Estrada, 44, a Mexican American.
“And I wouldn’t have given him a second thought if I hadn’t started reading about him and seeing that I liked what he was saying—and realizing that labels are just that,” Estrada told VOXXI.
“He’s the first politician who has made me feel like there’s someone who truly does want to shake up the status quo, the establishment and the way things have always been.”
Some longtime Republicans also say that Cruz marks a turning point for their party.
“I think it would be great for Texas and for the Republican Party to have a capable U.S. Senator of Hispanic descent,” said Dallas businessman John Robert Pharr.
“The Hispanic community in Texas cannot be overlooked or excluded from the Republican Party,” Pharr told VOXXI. “Republicans need to be seen as a big tent party with room for everyone who has a stake in a vibrant economy and a manageable government.”
Many voters apparently felt the same way.
“Ted Cruz’s election is a historic day for Texas Hispanics,” accountant Stephanie Gonzales of San Antonio told VOXXI.
“Regardless of political party, by winning the Republican nomination and now being so close to becoming the state’s first Hispanic U.S. senator, Ted Cruz has accomplished what no one else ever did and has given Latinos belief that the American Dream is more than just a myth.”