On Tuesday night, Ted Cruz – a Canadian-born 41-year-old lawyer and son of an immigrant father who was a Cuban revolutionary – won a Texas primary contest to run as the GOP candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in November. He also emerges as a must-watch politician who is being touted by some as a future leader in the Republican party.
Mr. Cruz defeated the state’s sitting lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, who was the Republican establishment favourite.
The story line is familiar: an insurgent political campaign propels a Tea Party darling ahead of the Republican establishment’s preferred candidate, and breathes new life into a movement that promises to repeat the pattern in 2012.
“Congratulations to Ted Cruz!” said 2008 vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin on her Facebook page. “This is a victory both for Ted and for the grassroots Tea Party movement.”
Mr. Cruz won the backing of Ms. Palin and key politicians connected to the Tea Party movement. However, he did not get the endorsement of Texas Governor Rick Perry, who backed his opponent. Mr. Cruz will face a Democratic party opponent in November to replace retiring Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.
The Princeton University and Harvard Law School graduate, who clerked with U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and later served as Texas solicitor general, also won the backing of more mainstream Republicans.
“He’s a dynamic guy, he’s young, Latino, a strong conservative,” former Florida governor Jeb Bush Jr. told Politico. “It helps politically in Texas to have a Hispanic senator, as the demographics shift around the country.”
In a deeply Republican state and with the support of Tea party organizations around the country, Mr. Cruz is widely expected to win November’s senate race and head to Washington D.C.
But behind his Tea Party credentials – he wants to repeal Obamacare, protect the rights of gun owners, champion pro-life causes, and restore economic liberty – Mr. Cruz has a fascinating personal biography that includes a Canadian connection.
His Cuban father and American mother moved Alberta in the 1960s to work in the oil business. Ted Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta, and spent the first four years of his life there before the family moved back to Houston, Texas. His memory of Canada was that it was “it was cold.”
His father, Rafael, fought alongside rebels in the Cuban revolution. He was imprisoned and tortured by the Batista regime.
Mr. Cruz has said that his father was, like many teenage boys, unaware that Fidel Castro was a communist.
“[What] they knew was that Batista was a cruel and oppressive dictator,” he told the Dallas Morning News.
While Cuba was still in the throes of its revolution - and before Fidel Castro came to power- the elder Cruz legally moved to the U.S. on a student visa, eventually becoming a permanent resident and citizen.
“When my Dad came to Austin in 1957, as a teenage immigrant from Cuba bound for the University of Texas, he spoke no English and had $100 sewn into his underwear,” Mr. Cruz writes on his website.
“He worked his way through school as a dishwasher making 50 cents an hour...,” says Mr. Cruz.
The elder Cruz graduated from the University of Texas and met his Irish-American wife Eleanor Darragh. Both were mathematicians and together started a seismic data business that served the oil industry.
Mr. Cruz described his mother as the first person in her Delaware working-class family to ever go to college, earning a math degree at Houston’s Rice University.
The story of his parents – particularly that of his father – was a constant theme on the campaign trail.
“When I was a kid, my dad used to say to say to me all the time, when we faced oppression in Cuba, I had a place to flee to,” he told a gathering of conservative activists last October. “If we lose our liberty here, where do we go? And you know what? That question underscores why everyone is here today standing up to fight for our liberty.”
Mr. Cruz has been compared to another rising star in the Republican party – Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who was also backed by the Tea Party when he won his senate seat.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Texas Governor Rick Perry backed Ted Cruz. Gov. Perry endorsed Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.