Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz defeated Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke in the battle for the U.S. Senate.
With nearly all the votes tallied Wednesday morning, Cruz led O’Rourke 51-48 percent.
But for more than two hours Tuesday night, the vote see-sawed back and forth, as Cruz, then O’Rourke, then Cruz held slim leads.
Even though Cruz won, the tightness in this race — and the apparent defeat of some incumbent Republicans across the state — sends a strong message, said Bill Miller, an Austin-based political consultant.
“Everyone is taken aback by the closeness of this election,” Miller said. “Anyone who follows politics knows this is an extraordinary evening.
“The message is clear,” he said. “There are too many races that are close that weren’t even expected to be close. There’s no mistaking the anger of the electorate here. The wind has changed and it is blowing strong the other way.”
This race has dominated political attention in Texas and across the country for the better part of a year.
Many have long believed Cruz will handily win his first re-election bid, while others firmly believed O’Rourke would be the first Texas Democrat to win a statewide race in more than 20 years.
Both have barnstormed through the state in recent days, rallying party faithful to head to the polls and support candidates up and down the ballot.
Some say it’s little surprise this race helped generate massive early turnout in Texas, as 4.8 million Texas voters — who make up 39.86 percent of the registered voters in Texas’s 30 largest counties — headed to the polls before Election Day.
This, even though a Democrat hasn’t won a statewide post in Texas since 1994.
‘Election of our lifetime’
O’Rourke was propelled into the national spotlight during this campaign, as Beto-mania ran rampant among Texas supporters — and Hollywood stars began backing him, landing him on countless television shows.
“This is the election of our lifetime,” O’Rourke said during a recent campaign stop in Fort Worth. “I’ve just got to tell you, ... I have never been so energized, never been so encouraged, never been so thrilled, never been feeling those things on so few hours of sleep.
“But you are the energy that is driving this campaign.”
Cruz — who claimed his seat in the Senate six years ago after winning an underdog race for which he even picked up the title of the “biggest upset of 2012” — was challenged in this election.
He traveled around the state in recent weeks, encouraging Republican voters to head to the polls.
“Democratic turnout in November is going to be record-shattering,” Cruz told crowds. “Every angry liberal in the state is going to turn out to vote.”
The state’s junior senator even said he believes the Hippie Hollow nudist park in Austin will be empty on Election Day because “every one of those folks will be down there voting to turn Texas blue,” he said.
But he urged Republicans to hold steady.
“We’re going to win this race,” he said. “The reason I know that is simple. This is Texas and it’s in our DNA. Whenever liberty is threatened, Texans rise up to protect it.”
‘Direction of our country’
O’Rourke led in fundraising, ultimately raising more than $70 million, more than double the $30 million Cruz raised.
As the months went on, the Cook Political Report even put this race in the “toss up” column.
Cruz continued his conservative path, telling supporters at a recent campaign stop in Arlington that Texans would decide the future of this state in this midterm election.
“We are seeing an election that is about the direction of Texas and the direction of our country,” he said.
O’Rourke also crisscrossed the state, urging voters to head to the polls and support Democrats seeking office.
This election, he said, came at a defining time, when “the country has not been more divided, at least in recent memory, more polarized, where folks are being mean and petty and small with one another.
“You all, the people of Texas, everyone involved in this campaign, ... are showing this country how we can come together,” O’Rourke said. “And come together not against anyone else, not against another political party, but for one another.”
At one point, Republicans said they thought O’Rourke’s election bid was a “serious threat” to Cruz’s re-election.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were among those who traveled to Texas to campaign for Cruz.
O’Rourke “looked like the guy who could break the stranglehold Republicans have on Texas statewide offices,” Miller said.
Staff writer Diane Smith contributed to this report.