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Dewhurst, Cruz to Battle in One of Several Runoffs

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, both GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate, will vie in one of multiple runoffs that Texas voters will decide in July.

Ted Cruz and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, right, at a U.S. Senate candidate debate on Jan. 12, 2012.

Texans will have nine more weeks of watching Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz battle to succeed U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, as Dewhurst was unable to convert his considerable money advantage and name ID into an outright win in Tuesday’s Texas primary.

At the top of the ballot, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney clinched his party’s presidential nomination, thanks to the vote in Texas. Several GOP candidates remained on the ballot even though they had suspended their campaigns.

In the highest-profile race of the primary, Dewhurst led in votes but fell short of avoiding a runoff. Cruz received about a third of the vote, followed by former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and former ESPN analyst Craig James.

Dewhurst said Tuesday night that his lead over Cruz is proof that out-of-state groups couldn’t sway Texas voters.

“Tonight is a clear message from the voters to the Washington insiders and special interests: Don’t mess with Texas,” Dewhurst told supporters in Houston. “Texans want to elect their own United States senator.”

Also in Houston, Cruz said the runoff is a clear signal that Dewhurst took the state’s Republican voters for granted, citing dozens of candidate forums that Dewhurst opted not to attend. He invited Dewhurst to agree to five debates before the runoff.

“Now in this first round, which was supposed to be the only round, my opponent made a decision that the people didn’t matter. ... So I hope in the second round, the establishment has learned its lesson,” Cruz said.

Democrats are also headed to a July 31 runoff in the Senate race. Former state Rep. Paul Sadler will face off against educator Grady Yarbrough.

In the GOP presidential race, there were nine options for voters to choose from, including “uncommitted,” but Romney took about 70 percent of the vote in early returns. He received more than 100 delegates with about 90 percent of the precincts reporting.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Lake Jackson, came in a distant second place, and Rick Santorum placed third. Gov. Rick Perry, who ended his presidential campaign in January, had his name removed from the Texas ballot.

“I am honored that Americans across the country have given their support to my candidacy, and I am humbled to have won enough delegates to become the Republican Party's 2012 presidential nominee,” Romney said in a written statement. “Our party has come together with the goal of putting the failures of the last three and a half years behind us.”

Veteran U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, first elected in 1996, was the only incumbent congressman not re-elected Tuesday. He was defeated by Beto O'Rourke, who avoided a runoff in the Democratic primary for Congressional District 16.

Crowded primaries in congressional races sparked several runoffs — and produced one of the biggest surprises of the night.

State Sen. Mike Jackson, R-Pasadena, was badly trailing the two leading candidates in the new CD-36 in southeast Texas with more than 90 percent of the precincts reporting. Political novice Stephen Takach, who poured about $300,000 of his own money into the race, appeared to be headed for a runoff with former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman. Jackson had been widely expected to make the runoff.

Stockman, who served in Congress for one term in the mid-1990s, spent a fraction of the money Takach did. But he was able to capitalize on his name recognition.

In North Texas’ CD-33, state Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth and former state Rep. Domingo Garcia of Dallas are headed for a runoff after a bruising Democratic primary that exposed racial tensions in the newly drawn district.

Elsewhere, Rep. Randy Weber, R-Pearland, was headed for a runoff with Pearland City Councilwoman Felicia Harris in CD-14, which Paul vacated to run for president.

In a 12-way Republican primary for CD-25, stretching from North Texas to Austin, former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams was thought to have a good chance to make the runoff but ended up in sixth place. Former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams and retired Army officer Wes Riddle will vie in the runoff.    

Powerful House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, faced an unusual challenge in his own district. Conservative activists who could not take him out in a 2011 speaker’s race tried to beat him at home, but they didn’t come close.

Straus won with more than 60 percent of the vote in his race against political novice Matt Beebe. Straus, however, saw several of his top lieutenants, including three of his committee chairs, defeated.

In the state Senate races, Texas trial lawyers, who normally support Democrats, made an unprecedented play in the Republican primaries but got little for their money. Two of their candidates, Dave Norman in Senate District 11 and state Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, in SD-9, both lost badly. In a third race, state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, is headed for a runoff with Donna Campbell in SD-25.

In the GOP race for the U.S. Senate, Cruz’s supporters have been among the most engaged of any campaign in Texas this year and could give him an edge in a mid-summer runoff expected to draw anemic turnout.

Republican primary voters largely focused on Dewhurst and Cruz in the last weeks of the campaign as the mudslinging intensified and both sides accused the other of lying.

Leppert framed himself as the sensible alternative, lightly needling his opponents in television ads but largely staying above the fray.

National figures including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and Paul threw their weight behind Cruz, helping draw national attention to the race. Dewhurst countered with ads featuring Gov. Rick Perry and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Both Dewhurst and Leppert relied heavily on their personal fortunes to buoy their campaign.

Dewhurst loaned himself $15.2 million as of May 24, according to federal election records. Cracks in Dewhurst’s inevitability became more apparent in the last two weeks as Dewhurst threw in an extra $3.1 million of his own money to run more ads and began acknowledging publicly that a runoff was possible.

Cruz was outspent by both Dewhurst and Leppert, but some out-of-state conservative groups helped make up the difference. The Club for Growth invested more than $2.5 million in Texas over the last year in an effort to boost Cruz. The group has made waves in recent weeks by spending heavily to influence GOP primaries in Indiana and Nebraska. Two Super PACs backing Dewhurst spent more than $3 million in the race.

The Democratic primary for U.S. Senate drew less than $200,000 among four candidates. That race upended most predictions Tuesday night as newcomer Sean Hubbard was widely expected to make a runoff with former Sadler, who finished in first. Yarbrough finished second and advances to the runoff. Hubbard came in last behind Addie Allen, a disaster assistance worker for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Sadler said a lack of media coverage made it difficult for voters to become informed about the race. He thinks he and Yarborough should join Dewhurst and Cruz in multiple debates over the next two months.

“I think the people of Texas deserve to hear from all four candidates in the runoff,” Sadler said. “I think they deserve to have the same media attention. I’ll accept his [Cruz's] challenge right now, any place, any time, anywhere.”

Yarbrough said early Tuesday night that he wasn’t surprised at making the runoff.

“I felt that it would be a runoff, and yes, I have a plan for the runoff,” Yarbrough said. “It’s turning out the way I thought it would.”

Unlike his three competitors in the primary, Yarbrough has not reported raising or spending any money with the Federal Elections Commission. Yarbrough said he just hasn’t filed any reports yet but did spend money around the state promoting his campaign.

“I spent money, you bet I have,” Yarbrough said.

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