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High Early-Vote Turnout Leaves Question Mark for Candidates

Polls open today for the state's runoff elections. But as Ben Philpott of KUT News and the Tribune reports, attention in the U.S. Senate race is still partly focused on last week's higher-than-expected early-voting turnout, which could spell good news for either candidate.

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About 1.4 million people voted in the Republican primary in May. But now, in the middle of summer, with vacations and 100-degree heat to keep people from the polls, some expected only half as many to cast a ballot in the runoff. So far, early voting totals have been better than expected.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

In May, 241,000 people cast early ballots in the state's 10 largest counties. "If you look at those same 10 counties, there were 200,000 votes in this runoff," said Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson. "And the first round had 12 days of early voting. The runoff only had five. So to get 83 percent of the first-round early vote, I think, is quite good. It shows a lot of interest."

Turnout is expected to be the key in the GOP U.S. Senate race between Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst. Lower vote totals were expected to help Cruz, who has claimed significant Tea Party support, and the momentum in the race appears to be behind him. Jillson says the high turnout in early voting could be a reflection of excitement among grassroots activists — maybe.

"It's equally possible that the moderate establishment Republican vote is large enough to support Dewhurst," he said.

A high-turnout win for Cruz would mean a new dynamic in the Republican primary. Sure, the Tea Party has been able to win local elections against establishment candidates, but Republican strategist Ted Delisi thinks this election demonstrates a maturing of the movement.

"Whether or not this is just a complete referendum on the Tea Party and if the Tea Party wins or loses, I think that would be reading too much into it,” Delisi said. “But I do think that the Tea Party, certainly in some large suburban counties, in conjunction with the Republican Party, is becoming a more organized force."

A force that he says Republican candidates will have to understand and appeal to in future elections.

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2012 elections David Dewhurst Ted Cruz