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Much-Watched Senate Race May Need Runoff

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AUSTIN (AP) - The Texas primary’s most-watched election may not produce a winner at all.

Nine candidates are squaring off for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat that currently belongs to Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is retiring. If nobody wins a majority in Tuesday’s primary, a runoff will be held July 31 between the top two finishers.

Despite that clash headlining a primary that also includes numerous congressional and legislative races, turnout appeared to be low early Tuesday as sweltering heat, confusion over the primary date and Memorial Day weekend travels kept voters away.

Tom Bass, 85, in Houston said he never misses the chance to vote and blamed the lack of voters early Tuesday on redistricting disputes, which have twice pushed back the primary from March.

“People get in the habit, and the change of the date is a change in habit,” Bass said.

One polling place in Lubbock reported that as of 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, just 75 people out of 4,800 registered voters had shown up at an elementary school to cast ballots. It wasn’t clear how many had voted early. At one Houston polling station, an official read an electronic book while another rolled the border of a sheet of name-tag stickers into a ball.

In the Senate race, a victory by fiery attorney and former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz over long-serving Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican primary would cap what already is a banner month for the tea party movement. Richard Mourdock ousted 36-year Senate veteran Richard Lugar in Indiana, and state Sen. Deb Fischer, an insurgent candidate who also drew strong tea party support, upset two better-known candidates in Nebraska.

Also vying for the GOP senatorial nomination is former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, who bills himself as a businessman and less-bombastic darling of fiscal conservatives. Among the others seeking the seat is ex-NFL running back and ESPN announcer Craig James, who has struggled to gain traction in the race.

Texas’ booming population meant it added four new seats in Congress, while new redistricting maps drawn by the Republican-dominated state Legislature — and a subsequent legal fight over whether they fairly represented minority voters — reshaped many existing districts.

Dewhurst is thought to be the front-runner, having overseen the Texas Senate as lieutenant governor since 2003, and drawing an endorsement from Gov. Rick Perry. But Cruz claims Dewhurst is too moderate since he was sometimes willing to compromise with Democratic state senators to ensure the flow of legislation.

Cruz has drawn support from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and national limited-government groups including the Club For Growth — support Dewhurst dismisses as outsiders meddling in state politics.

On the Democratic side, former state Rep. Paul Sadler is facing political newcomer Sean Hubbard.

Rich Parsons, a spokesman at the secretary of state’s office, said more than 13 million Texans had registered to vote, though many election workers spent the early part of the day killing time. Outside Garza-Pena Elementary in San Juan campaign workers holding signs outnumbered voters early Tuesday morning. The day was still tolerable though there were warnings on the radio that people should stay inside because the heat index was expected to reach 107 degrees.

In Euless, a suburb between Dallas and Fort Worth, Nona Batiste, a 65-year-old retired teacher, said the change in date could not deter her from voting.

“It was important to just be here,” Batiste said. “Because this is my only voice.”

Jose Blanco, a 44-year-old engineer in Plano, who wanted to cast his ballot for Cruz, said he kept being bounced from one polling station to another — including his usual venue — and was told to go to a school he doesn’t know.

“I’m frustrated. I’m trying to do the right thing. I want to vote,” Blanco said. “I might just give up. This is my third place.”

In another closely watched race, longtime U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson was trying to fend off the first Democratic primary challenge in her two decades representing the North Texas district in Congress. Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett also faced a challenge in a new district, which runs from Austin to San Antonio.

And along the Gulf Coast, a runoff was likely in the Republican race to fill the House seat of Ron Paul, who chose not to run for re-election while focusing on his GOP presidential bid. The GOP winner is likely to face Democrat and former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, who served four terms in the House but was defeated in 2004.

Most polls across Texas were set to close at 7 p.m. Among those who showed up was Ana Maria Serrano, an immigrant from Mexico, who said she has voted since becoming a U.S. citizen because she feels it’s her duty. Still, she believes that, other than fulfilling her civic duties, voting does not change much.

“With candidates it’s like when you marry, your boyfriend promises and promises but once he marries you, he forgets all about those promises,” she said.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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