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The Brief: May 30, 2012

The big day may be over, but a full slate of runoffs has turned summer into another election season in Texas.

Supporters arriving at Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's primary watch party in Houston on May 29, 2012.

The Big Conversation:

The big day may be over, but a full slate of runoffs has turned summer into another election season in Texas.

In Tuesday's marquee race, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst fell short of the 50-percent threshold he needed to avoid a runoff. Ted Cruz, the self-styled insurgent in the race who has secured major Tea Party backing, held Dewhurst under the halfway mark, capturing 34 percent of the vote to Dewhurst's 45 percent.

In his election night speech, Dewhurst, who had received the endorsement of Gov. Rick Perry and wielded a considerable fundraising advantage, hit Cruz for the support he had received from outside groups. “Tonight is a clear message from the voters to the Washington insiders and special interests: Don’t mess with Texas,” Dewhurst said.

Cruz, in his speech, again cast the race as a fight between an entrenched, moderate politician and a fiery, conservative alternative — dynamics that recall recent GOP primaries in Indiana and Nebraska in which Tea Party-backed candidates have managed major upsets. “Now in this first round, which was supposed to be the only round, my opponent made a decision that the people didn’t matter," Cruz said, adding, "so I hope in the second round, the establishment has learned its lesson.

Cruz, the former state solicitor general, also challenged Dewhurst to five debates before the July 31 runoff.

As for each candidate's chances, the Austin American-Statesman reports that a campaign memo claims Dewhurst enjoys strong support among certain groups likely to vote in a runoff. Recent polling also indicates that Tom Leppert supporters would break heavily for Dewhurst. But the late runoff, which may attract only the most motivated voters, bodes well for Cruz.

Voters also forced a runoff — and a surprise — on the Democratic side. Former state Rep. Paul Sadler finished in first, as expected, with 35 percent of the vote. But educator Grady Yarbrough, a relative unknown (who appears to lack even a campaign website), placed second, edging out two other candidates, including Sean Hubbard, who appeared likeliest to make a runoff with Sadler.

Other highlights:

  • At the top of the ballot, Mitt Romney formally clinched the Republican presidential nomination after netting about 70 percent of the vote. Ron Paul placed a distant second. President Barack Obama easily avoided another red-state primary embarrassment, scooping up 88 percent of the vote.
  • Beto O'Rourke defeated longtime U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes in a closely watched battle between two El Paso Democratic powerhouses. O'Rourke, a member of the city's so-called progressive camp, received just over 50 percent of the vote, compared with Reyes' 44 percent.
  • In the fight to replace Ron Paul in Congress, state Sen. Mike Jackson, a Pasadena Republican who was widely viewed as the race's front-runner, ended up in third place behind political novice Stephen Takach and former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman.
  • As the Tribune's Ross Ramsey reports, election day dealt some blows to Speaker Joe Straus. Though he easily won his re-election battle against Matt Beebe, three of Straus' committee chairs — Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands; Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton, R-Lumberton; and Vicki Truitt, R-Southlake — lost their races; another, Chuck Hopson, R-Jacksonville, is headed to a runoff.
  • The state Senate appeared to show signs of a rightward shift, with conservatives looking likely to replace all four retiring Republicans. In another Senate race, incumbent Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, and former Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones engaged in a vicious and expensive battle for District 25, but Donna Campbell sneaked past Jones to land in a runoff with Wentworth.
  • In North Texas, state Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth and former state Rep. Domingo Garcia of Dallas, as expected, emerged as the top vote-getters in the crowded Congressional District 33 race, in which racial tension boiled over in the final weeks of the campaign.
  • U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, the longtime congressman whose political future appeared to have waned after Republicans drew him into a heavily Hispanic district, won another term in Congress, easily defeating two Hispanic candidates.
  • Mary Edna Gonzalez, a 28-year-old doctoral student, became the first woman to represent El Paso's District 75 in the state House. Gonzalez has also become the House's first openly gay lawmaker in 11 years, according to the Dallas Voice.
  • Despite losses for moderate Republican candidates in several open seats, as well as the ousting of three incumbents, the ideological control of the State Board of Education won't change much this year, Morgan Smith reports.

In other news…

Amid election day drama on Tuesday, state Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, filed to run for speaker of the House against Joe Straus. Straus, who easily fended off Republican primary opponent Matt Beebe on Tuesday, drew a speaker's challenge from Reps. Ken Paxton and Warren Chisum in 2011, though both withdrew before the session began. Hughes,
who has served five terms in the House, didn't commend on the matter Tuesday.


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