Ted Cruz was projected the victor in his home state on Super Tuesday, a must-win for the Texas senator against Donald Trump.
He spoke Tuesday night from a victory party at Stafford, Texas, insisting he was the only serious Republican alternative to Trump – a pointed critique of Sen. Marco Rubio, who is also chasing Trump in delegates.
"Our campaign is the only campaign that has beaten, that can beat, and that will beat Donald Trump," he said.
Cruz's success in the Republican primary was expected but key to his campaign. He also was the winner in Oklahoma, where Trump had led in the polls.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took Texas.
The state was expected to offer a home-field advantage to Cruz, especially among conservatives with whom he is popular, and he had gotten the endorsements of both the current Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and the former Republican Gov. Rick Perry.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released Sunday showed Cruz leading Trump 39 percent to 26 percent among likely Republican voters, with Rubio at 16 percent.
In his victory speech, Cruz urged his GOP rivals to come over to his campaign.
“So long as the field remains divided Donald Trump’s path to the nomination remains more likely,” he said. “And that would be a disaster for Republicans, for conservatives and for the nation.”
The Republican primary had exploded in vitriol ahead of Super Tuesday when 11 states voted — and for Cruz overshadowed first by Rubio’s broadside against Trump and then by the surprise endorsement of Trump by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, his home state was do or die. Another blow to the Texas senator came Sunday afternoon: an endorsement of Trump by Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a determined opponent of immigration reform and one of Cruz's few allies in the Senate.
Cruz, who had won only Iowa going into Super Tuesday, campaigned hard against Trump, saying he could beat Trump in a two-man race and calling on him to release an off-the-record interview with The New York Times about his immigration views. The website BuzzFeed reported that Trump had suggested to the Times editorial board that he was not serious about deporting all undocumented immigrants and building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that Mexico would pay for.
"It is either false ... (or) he actually now is telling The New York Times editorial board: 'Pay no attention to what I'm saying on immigration because I, Donald Trump don't intend to do anything I'm saying,'" Cruz said at a campaign rally in San Antonio on Monday.
On Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," he suggested that Trump was refusing to release his tax returns because of supposed ties to organized crime figures.
Texas’ Democratic primary received much less attention because Clinton held a significant lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders. In that contest, one of 13 among Democrats, the NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll had Clinton ahead 59 percent to 38 percent.
And while Clinton did take Texas, she was projected to lose to Sanders in Oklahoma, a victory that will bouy the Sanders campaign.
Matt Mackowiak, a Republican political consultant in Washington, D.C., and Austin, and founder of Potomac Strategy Group, noted that not only is Texas Cruz's home state but it has 155 delegates to allocate, the most of any Super Tuesday GOP contest. Unless a candidate earns more than 50 percent of the state, they are awarded proportionately.
One hundred and eight of the delegates are allocated in 36 congressional districts. If a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, he wins three delegates. If not, the winner takes two delegates and the runner-up gets one.
Another 44 delegates are awarded statewide, also proportionately if a candidate does not clear 50 percent of the vote but receives more than 20 percent. The final three delegates are members of the Republican National Committee from Texas.
On the Democratic side, 222 delegates are at stake. Another 29 delegates are categorized as "superdelegates" who can choose a candidate to back at the party's national convention in July.
Cruz had 27,000 volunteers in Texas and an organization with which he won a bitter Senate race in 2012 -- in a large state with 20 media markets that is difficult to organize, he said.
This year, Texas' primary was pushed forward from May 29 and it has been hoping to be an influential contest with its large pool of delegates. Some of the sharpest exchanges among candidates came as they moved their campaigning into the Lone Star state after South Carolina's contest.
Most political observers thought Trump would fade in popularity, but instead, the businessman has been famously bypassing traditional campaigning to win -- taking advantage of his celebrity for large rallies and free media coverage.
His success has relied on that celebrity as he taps into the appeal for an outsider. But there also is the simplicity of his message, which neither Cruz nor Rubio has been able to duplicate, Mackowiak said.
"It’s hard to distill their message down into one or two sentences," he said. "It’s not hard for Trump. Everyone knows 'Make America great again.' Everyone knows what he has proposed on immigrant and trade."
A poll from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune found that 21 percent of Republican primary voters thought the most important reason for choosing a candidate was to improve the American economy. The second was to give the Republican party a good chance to win in November.
Cruz is seen as an aggressive man with whom other people find it difficult to work, Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson said. Late last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, at the same dinner at which he said his party had gone "bats**t crazy" for its embrace of Trump, also lashed into Cruz, saying he had alienated both Republicans and Democrats.
"If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate and the trial was in the Senate, nobody could convict you," he joked.