DALLAS (AP) – Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney locked up the Republican presidential nomination with a win in Texas’ primary Tuesday, while Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and tea party-supported lawyer Ted Cruz emerged from a field of nine to send the Republican race to replace retiring Texas U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to a runoff.
The contentious Senate race was the most-watched among hundreds of races in the Texas primary for the Republican presidential nomination, Congress, the Legislature, judges and various state boards. But turnout across the state was low, perhaps due in part to sweltering heat, confusion about a primary date that had been rescheduled twice because of redistricting disputes and Memorial Day weekend travels that kept some folks away from home.
Dewhurst, who counted Gov. Rick Perry among his backers, led the former Texas solicitor general but couldn’t close the deal by collecting more than 50 percent of the vote. Voters now will decide between Dewhurst and Cruz on July 31.
“We did it,” Cruz told jubilant supporters gathered in Houston, calling the outcome “a victory for conservatives.”
“This is an incredible unbelievable night. … A year and a half ago there’s wasn’t a soul in the state of Texas that thought this was possible.”
Dewhurst, at a considerably more subdued gathering in Houston, also touted his conservatism but focused his remarks more on President Barack Obama, saying he wanted to repeal the president’s health-care overhaul and end a “war on Texas.”
Perry congratulated voters for their “strong commitment to conservative values to keep our state on the fiscally responsible path leading to jobs and opportunity.” He put in another pitch for Dewhurst, urging them to “more than ever … work to send a proven conservative leader like David Dewhurst to Washington, where he can put the Texas approach to work to overhaul Washington.”
The secretary of state’s office forecast about 2.3 million of the more than 13 million registered Texans would vote but several polling places indicated voters stayed away. About 1 million Texans participated in early voting and another 1 million voted Tuesday.
Many polling places reported seeing just dozens of voters out of thousands registered. 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.
Anette Fay, 50, of Richardson, a German immigrant who looked forward to voting for president for the first time, was taken aback when she arrived to vote.
“I thought there would be lines,” she said.
The presidential primary topped the Texas ticket, and Romney clinched the GOP nomination with a cache of delegates collected in an overwhelming victory in Tuesday’s balloting. According to the Associated Press count, Romney surpassed the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination by winning at least 88 delegates in the Texas primary. The 152 delegates in the state are awarded in proportion to the statewide vote, and another 64 delegates were still to be decided as results rolled in.
But the GOP U.S. Senate race drew the greatest attention. Cruz’s strong showing capped what’s already a banner month for the tea party movement. Richard Mourdock ousted 36-year Senate veteran Richard Lugar in Indiana, and state Sen. Deb Fischer used strong tea party support to upset two better-known candidates in Nebraska.
Among others seeking the GOP senatorial nomination, Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert conceded less than an hour after polls closed and ex-NFL running back and ESPN announcer Craig James failed to get out of single-digit percentages.
Dewhurst has overseen the Texas Senate as lieutenant governor since 2003, but Cruz claimed Dewhurst was too moderate for sometimes showing a willingness to compromise with Democratic state senators to ensure the flow of legislation.
Cruz drew 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 dismissed as outsiders meddling in state politics.
DeMint hailed Cruz making the runoff as “a major victory for conservatives” and a result of Dewhurst’s failure “to fight for conservative principles.”
On the Democratic side, former state Rep. Paul Sadler, from Henderson in East Texas, topped a field of four and will face political unknown Grady Yarbrough of San Antonio.
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.
With one exception, congressional incumbents fared well. Longtime U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson dispensed with the first Democratic primary opponent in her two decades representing her Dallas-area district. And Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, torpedoed by Republicans in their redistricting plan, topped a field of three to take his party’s nomination in the new 35th District, which runs from Austin to San Antonio.
But Silvestre Reyes, a Democrat from El Paso who first was elected in 1996, failed to even make a runoff as he was defeated by former city councilman Beto O’Rourke, who took just over 50 percent of the vote.
Along the Gulf Coast, Randy Weber, a Pearland businessman, will face Felicia Harris, a Pearland attorney, in a Republican runoff 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 will face Democrat and former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, who served four terms in the House but was defeated in 2004.
Also Tuesday, a campaign worker was shot in the leg in an apparent drive-by shooting at a South Texas polling place. The injuries were not life threatening, no suspects were identified and it wasn’t immediately clear if the shooter was targeting a specific campaign or candidate, San Juan Police Chief Juan Gonzalez said.
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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