DALLAS (AP) — A decidedly rigid, even angry tone fueled Ted Cruz's rise from virtual unknown to senator-elect, helping him become a national tea party sensation by pledging to beat back government and choke off federal spending no matter what.
Now the first Hispanic to represent Texas in the Senate is vowing that unless President Barack Obama takes America in a new direction, he will fight the White House at every turn.
If 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 Tuesday in a victory speech. "But if he is re-elected and intends on continuing down this same path, then I will spend every waking moment to lead the fight to stop it."
Such pronouncements helped the 41-year-old former state solicitor general rise from the longest of long shots to become one of the few Hispanics elected to the Senate. At the start of the primary season, he was polling in the single digits, far behind Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a formidable rival who was backed by the mainstream GOP, had overseen the state Senate since 2003 and poured more than $20 million of his vast personal fortune into his campaign.
But Cruz successfully painted Dewhurst as an establishment moderate, wowing tea party activists and eventually cruising to a primary victory. Then on Tuesday he easily beat Democrat Paul Sadler.
Cruz has called for closing federal departments and "reforming while preserving entitlements" to reduce federal spending. But he also supports proposals that could expand the federal deficit, including building a wall the length of the Texas-Mexico border, tripling the size of the Border Patrol and cutting taxes for small-business owners.
Making the rounds on national talk shows Wednesday, Cruz was pressed about the likely need for both parties to compromise to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of deep spending cuts and tax increases that will kick in next year without a deal in Congress.
Cruz largely refused even to utter the word "compromise" and repeated that he'd be willing to work with anyone — but only to pass sweeping spending cuts.
Meanwhile, he wasn't the only Texan vowing to fight. Gov. Rick Perry called for the newly re-elected president to repeal his own health care overhaul.
"We must hold his and Congress' feet to the fire to once-and-for-all cut spending, repeal Obamacare and withdraw federal encroachment into state decision-making and personal liberties," Perry said in a statement.
Obama's victory opened up political possibilities for Perry, who was briefly the front runner in the Republican presidential primary but flamed out with a series of embarrassing gaffes — including his infamous "oops moment," when he forgot the third federal department he had promised to eliminate if elected.
Perry, who became governor when George W. Bush left for the White House in 2000, is mulling another run for governor in 2014. But he also hasn't ruled out another presidential campaign two years after that — and didn't miss the chance to hit the Obama administration.
"The American people have given President Obama a chance to start over," his statement said, suggesting that Obama "can put an end to his reckless disregard for our rule of law and spare our nation another long, painful and expensive four years."
Cruz replaces retiring Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. He will be the state's junior senator, behind Republican John Cornyn, who struck a far more conciliatory tone.
"It's clear that, with our losses in the presidential race, and a number of key Senate races, we have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party," Cornyn said in a statement. He chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which watched the Democrats pick up two seats in the chamber.
"While some will want to blame one wing of the party over the other, the reality is candidates from all corners of our GOP lost tonight," Cornyn said. "Clearly we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead."