HOUSTON — To say Ted Cruz began as an underdog would be an understatement.
On Tuesday night, he shocked the state’s powerful Republican establishment and beat Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a run-off election for the U.S. Senate nomination.
"We are witnessing a great awakening," Cruz told cheering supporters in Houston shortly after Dewhurst called him to concede. "Millions of Texans, millions of Americans are rising up to reclaim our country, to defend liberty and to restore the Constitution."
Cruz won 57 percent of the vote while Dewhurst collected 43 percent with 95 percent of precincts reporting late Tuesday night.
More than 1 million Texans voted in the runoff, a surprisingly strong turnout for balloting that came during the dog days of summer.
Dewhurst outspent Cruz 3-1, and blasted him with negative television ads — but they apparently did not stick.
Dewhurst had the endorsement of much of Texas' Republican mainstream, including Gov. Rick Perry, who despite his failed run for president is still widely popular in his home state. Dewhurst also had a $200 million personal fortune he could dip into and did, loaning his Senate campaign at least $24.5 million.
Looking exhausted and shaken, Dewhurst told a small crowd in another part of Houston, "we got beat up a little bit but we never gave up."
"We came up a little short this evening, which is something I'm not used to, being short," said Dewhurst, who stands well over 6 feet tall. "But we will never stop fighting for our beloved Texas."
Dewhurst failed to mention Cruz by name.
But Cruz did thank his opponent by name, and the tea party favorite clearly connected with conservatives.
On Wednesday morning, Cruz starts another campaign as he begins his run in the general election against Democratic candidate Paul Sadler, a former state legislator, for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat.
If he wins it in November, Cruz would become the first Latino elected to the U.S. Senate from this state.
To Dewhurst's supporters, Cruz said, "We ask you to join us."
"We want you on our team," he continued. "In the heat of the campaign there have been harsh words spoken but I am hopeful that all of us can put them behind us and work together going forward."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.