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Texas overwhelmingly elected tea party-backed Republican Ted Cruz to the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, completing the former state solicitor general’s once seemingly impossible rise from virtual unknown to the first Hispanic to represent the Lone Star State in the Senate.
“With Ted Cruz’s win, it is going to be the same thing as Obama winning in 2008. Anyone can win. This shows it, whether you’re white, black, Asian, Hispanic. That’s what America is all about.” said Andy Snelling, a Shreveport, LA native who attended the McLennan County Republican watch party at the McLennan County Republican headquarters located at 539 Valley Mills Drive in Waco.
The 41-year-old Houston attorney beat Democrat and former state Rep. Paul Sadler to replace retiring Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Dallas. Sadler was in Austin and said in a subdued concession speech, “I am proud to stand in front of you and say we have a new senator-elect whose name is Ted Cruz.”
Cruz has vowed to limit spending and shrink the size of government and promised to do so again during his victory speech in Houston, saying if President Barack Obama is re-elected, “the next four years will be challenging indeed.”
“If President Obama means what he says on the campaign trail, if he is interested in working to bring people together to reduce the deficit and get people working, then I will work with him,” Cruz said. “But if he is re-elected and intends down this same path, then I will spend every waking moment to the fight to stop it.”
In a subsequent phone interview, Cruz added he thought it “is unfortunately likely” that Obama “will insist on continuing down the same path of the past four years.”
“If he does change, that will be a shift in course and it would be a shift I would certainly welcome,” he told The Associated Press. “But it is not likely.”
Ban Adams, a Waco native who attended the McLennan County Republican watch party, said he believed Cruz would come to represent the Hispanic community in its entirety- conservative and liberal.
“I think a lot of the Hispanic population is more liberal leaning, but they will see Ted Cruz in there and he will become a representative not only for conservative Hispanics, but for liberal as well,” Adams said. Adams said he believed Cruz would be able to “bring something to fix the Senate.”
Alisa Petree, a Baylor alumna who lives in Waco, attended the McLennan County Democratic watch party at the Papa Rollos Outback building located at 703 N. Valley Mills Drive.
“I think if Sadler would have been chosen that educations and educators would’ve been better represented by Texas,” she said.
Maggie Walker, a Waco resident, said she is concerned about the status of women’s healthcare under Cruz.
“I think Ted Cruz is not for a lot of things for women, like Planned Parenthood and all of that. He’s just not given women rights as far as women taking care of their own bodies and everything, he doesn’t believe in that.”
Cruz was just one senator in the midst of a larger national battle. Democrats and Republicans struggled for controlling majority of the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, even as the heated battle for the presidency raged.
Democrats won a narrow majority in the Senate on Tuesday, snatching Republican-held seats in Massachusetts and Indiana and turning back fierce, expensive challenges in Virginia, Ohio and Connecticut to maintain the control they’ve held since 2007.
With a third of the Senate up for election, Republicans were undone by candidate stumbles, with GOP hopefuls in Missouri and Indiana uttering clumsy statements about rape and abortion that did severe damage to their chances and the party’s hopes of taking over. The losses of Senate seats in Massachusetts and Indiana, combined with independent Angus King’s victory in the Republican-held Maine seat, put the GOP too far down in their already uphill climb.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., spoke of conciliation.
“Now that the election is over, it’s time to put politics aside and work together to find solutions,” Reid said in a statement. “The strategy of obstruction, gridlock and delay was soundly rejected by the American people. Now they are looking to us for solutions.”
At the time of publication, Democrats held a 53-47 edge in the Senate, including the two independents who caucus with them. Republicans needed a net gain of four seats to grab the majority. Shortly, after 11 p.m., Democrats gained a lock on 50 seats, enough to keep control once President Barack Obama won re-election.
The caustic campaign for control of the Senate in a divided Congress was marked by endless negative ads and more than $1 billion in spending by outside groups on races from Virginia to Montana, Florida to New Mexico. The outcome in Ohio and Virginia was closely linked to the presidential race. Republicans and Democrats in Massachusetts, North Dakota and Montana hoped that energetic campaigns and personality would lead to ticket-splitting by voters.
At the same time, Republicans drove toward renewed control of the House on Tuesday as Democrats failed to make any significant inroads into the GOP’s delegations from the East, South and Midwest.
With more than half of the 435 House races called by The Associated Press, Republicans had won 151 seats and were leading in 53 more. Democrats had taken 89 districts and led in 56 others.
There were another 20 seats in Western states where Republican incumbents were not facing serious challenges, but those polls remained open. A party needs 218 seats to control the House.
Even before renewed GOP control was clinched, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio — re-elected to his seat without opposition — claimed victory and laid down a marker for upcoming battles in Congress.
“The American people want solutions, and tonight they responded by renewing our House Republican majority,” he said at a gathering of Republicans in Washington. “The American people also made clear there’s no mandate for raising tax rates.”
One of the top fights when Congress returns for a postelection session this month will be over the looming expiration of income tax cuts first enacted a decade ago under President George W. Bush. Republicans want to renew them all, while President Barack Obama wants the cuts to expire for the highest-earning Americans.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., refused to concede. She told Democrats rallying a few blocks away from the GOP rally where Boehner spoke that by evening’s end, Democrats would end up “exceeding everyone’s expectations and perhaps achieving 25,” the number of added seats Democrats would need to gain House control.
A glimmer of hope remained for some Democratic gains as 11 members of the tea-party backed House GOP freshman class of 2010 were trailing in incomplete returns.
Donna Cassata, Will Weissert and Alan Fram of the Associated Press contributed to this report. Caroline Brewton, Maegan Rocio and Ashley Wucher contributed from Waco.