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Texas Tea Party Candidates Hope For Big Results Tuesday

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AUSTIN (AP) – Establishment Republicans recently fell to tea party insurgents in Indiana and Nebraska. Could the same happen in Texas?

A victory by Ted Cruz over long-serving Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in Tuesday’s Republican primary would cap what has already been a banner month for the tea party movement. Richard Mourdock ousted 36-year Senate veteran Richard Lugar in Indiana, and state Sen. Deb Fischer upset two better-known candidates in Nebraska.

Opinion polls show Dewhurst ahead in the GOP primary to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, but Cruz, an attorney and former state solicitor general appears to be gaining. And, with ex-Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and former NFL running back and EPSN announcer Craig James also in the race, no candidate may win a majority.

That would mean a July 31 runoff between the top two finishers — a second-round Cruz says he’ll win since those Republicans most-energized by his populist message are likely to turnout in droves amid the late-summer doldrums.

“This race is ground zero in the fight between the moderate establishment and the conservative tidal wave sweeping the country,” said Cruz spokesman James Bernsen.

But Dewhurst, who has made millions with his energy companies, dismisses national tea party groups that have spent heavily on advertising branding him as too moderate. While Cruz has won endorsements from former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, Dewhurst is backed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

“It’s a race between a Texas conservative businessman and a lawyer who’s funded by D.C. special interests,” said Matt Hirsch, a spokesman for Dewhurst, referring to limited government groups that support Cruz, such as the Washington-based Club For Growth.

Two weeks of early voting produced a strong showing, with nearly 7 percent of registered voters casting ballots. What remains to be seen, however, is whether early voting increased because more Texans had planned to be out of town for a regular election so close to Memorial Day.

On the Democratic side for the U.S. Senate, former state Rep. Paul Sadler is facing political newcomer Sean Hubbard. However, in heavily Republican Texas, whoever wins the GOP primary is expected to prevail in November.

While the Senate race has generated the most national attention, the state has 170 other major competitive races — including four new congressional seats Texas gained due to its booming population.

In Dallas, Democratic U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson has been an outspoken voice for two decades as the first black woman to represent North Texas in Congress. But she faces a serious primary challenge from a pair of younger hopefuls.

Along the Gulf Coast, a runoff is likely with nine Republicans vying for the GOP nomination to fill the House seat of Ron Paul, who chose not to run for Congress as he focused on presidential bid.

A runoff may also be coming in the heavily Democratic 33rd Congressional District, where state Rep. Marc Veasey and 10 other Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination with voters in much of west Dallas and south Fort Worth, along with parts of Irving, Grand Prairie and Arlington.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett is facing primary challenger and former state lawmaker Sylvia Romo in a new district which runs from Austin to San Antonio. Doggett’s old Central Texas congressional district was redrawn to become heavily Republican — and the top two GOP primary contenders there have the same last name: Former Texas Secretary of State and Republican activist Roger Williams and Former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams.

State Sen. Mike Jackson is perhaps the best known of 12 Republicans scrambling for the GOP nomination in East Texas’ new congressional district, while a new congressional district in the Lower Rio Grande Valley is thought to be heavily Democratic. Eight Democrats are running — including Brownsville District Attorney Armando Villalobos, who was recently arrested on federal fraud charges.

In a redrawn district including Corpus Christi, U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold faces three Republican challengers, and four Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination, including Ronnie McDonald, a county judge who was a public face of the devastating wildfires that ravaged the Bastrop area last year.

One of the nastiest races in the Texas Legislature has pitted 19-year incumbent Republican Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio against former state Railroad Commission Elizabeth Ames Jones. Wentworth has been targeted by the powerful business lobby Texans for Lawsuit Reform.

In the state House, the governor has waded into the fight between two East Texas incumbents battling for a new district. Perry endorsed Rep. James White, one of only two black Republicans in the Legislature last year, against Rep. Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton. Hamilton recently released records that showed the Livingston school district gave White a warning letter about holding inappropriate sexual discussions while teaching high school in 2007.

There are two crowded primary races for seats on the Railroad Commission of Texas, and all 15 seats on the State Board of Education are the ballot this year — though only seven of look to be competitive. Of those, all but one should effectively be deiced by Tuesday’s primary vote.

Three members of the all-Republican state Supreme Court are up for re-election, but only two — Don Willett and David Medina — are facing primary challenges. Their opponents claim the court has become too influenced by a pro-business agenda.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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