WASHINGTON -- The Tea Party is very much alive in the drive for Republican control of the Senate, portending a potential shakeup in the makeup and mindset of the chamber.
The easy Republican primary victory in Texas on Tuesday of Ted Cruz, the 41-year-old Sarah Palin-blessed upstart, virtually assured the latest Tea Party candidate a seat in the chamber next year. And he won't be alone when it comes to those backed by the movement that propelled Republicans to control of the House in 2010.
Cruz's victory has fiscal conservatives already hailing him as a national voice for hardline conservatives, and a firebrand freshman in what Republicans hope will be a GOP majority when the next Congress convenes in January.
The Cruz win immediately aligns him with the Tea Party faction in the Senate -- if he wins the general election Nov. 6 as expected in Texas, where Democrats haven't won a statewide office yet this century -- led by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who campaigned for the former Texas solicitor general.
"Ted's victory is a loud statement to the Washington establishment that Americans are ready to take back their country," DeMint said on Facebook. "Under the old system, the party establishment picked the status-quo candidates who toed the party line. But, the people have risen up to elect principled leaders like Ted Cruz who will take on big spenders in both parties and fight to save America from fiscal collapse."
DeMint has challenged the GOP Senate establishment, including U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, during the primary process to promote Tea Party candidates.
Cornyn, who stayed neutral in the primary and the run-off between Cruz and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, told reporters Wednesday that the win "was a real upset and we all recognize that."
Cornyn is leading the effort for the GOP to win the Senate majority in the 2012 elections.
Cornyn, who had had breakfast Wednesday with DeMint, attributed Cruz's appeal to the anger among voters, a force that the Tea Party has tapped into over the past several years.
"People are looking for fighters," said Cornyn, who brushed off a reporter's comment that Dewhurst predicted Cruz would not support Cornyn in his race to be Republican Whip.
"We'll have a conversation about that after the election," said Cornyn, who said he respected Cruz's focus on the general election but felt that Cruz would "do what's best for the state of Texas."
Former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a Republican from North Texas, was at the center of the Cruz effort in his role as chairman of FreedomWorks, a grassroots organization, and his long-time alliance with the Tea Party.
Armey expects Cruz to do things differently in the Senate. "Cruz fits our model of legislative entrepreneur to the T," he said. He said Cruz would be "innovative and creative" in pushing issues like the balanced budget amendment.
Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee who also campaigned for Cruz, said, "Our goal is not just about changing the majority in the Senate. It is about the kind of leadership we want."
Cruz is already being compared to 2010's Tea Party favorite, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a frequently mentioned vice presidential prospect to run with presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
Asked about Cruz being "the next Marco Rubio," Rubio told reporters Wednesday that he took it as a compliment. "My goal, my hope, is that we will continue to elect people to the Republican conference in the Senate who believe and will fight for the principles of free enterprise and limited government," said Rubio. "I think we can really being to make a difference."
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who is retiring and whose open seat set off the GOP scramble, said, "Ted's victory is also an early indicator of the national mood. Voters are seeking conservative alternatives to what they see as over encroachment by the federal government, whether it be in terms of the massive new healthcare law, or job-killing overregulation."
Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, senior analyst for Latino Decisions and fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas- Austin, said that Cruz's July 31 would be a "seismic" change in the Senate.
"The victory of Ted Cruz ... in the Texas GOP Senate primary run off, all but assuring his win in November, illustrates how the Tea Party has come into its own. More specifically, the Tea Party has broadened its voice, now within the U.S. Senate. The 2010 Tea Party rumblings have in 2012 become political seismic shifts."
This report contains material from The New York Times.