Onetime long shot Ted Cruz won the Republican nomination in a U.S. Senate race in Texas on Tuesday, providing tea party activists with renewed momentum in what they said was their biggest victory of the year.

Cruz, a 41-year-old former Texas solicitor general and a first-time candidate for elective office, is the tea party’s first bona fide star of the 2012 campaign: a charismatic speaker with an up-by-the-bootstraps biography who upended the Republican establishment in the nation’s largest red state.

With most precincts reporting, Cruz held a lead of 55 percent to 45 percent over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a powerful GOP figure who spent freely from his vast personal fortune and had endorsements from most of the state’s influential Republicans, including Gov. Rick Perry.

Tea party leaders hailed Cruz’s performance as a sign of the movement’s political maturation. After bursting onto the scene in 2010, the tea party this year suffered defeats in a few Senate primaries, appeared divided in several GOP contests, and before Tuesday mustered just one clear victory — in Indiana, where state Treasurer Richard Mourdock ousted 36-year Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), whose missteps contributed to his primary defeat.

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