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Texas Voters Head to Polls in 'Year of Chaos'

Texas voters will head to the polls Tuesday in a consequential day for the presidential primaries that could reverberate down the ballot.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas during a campaign rally at Gilley's in Dallas on Feb. 29, 2016.

Texas voters will head to the polls Tuesday in a consequential day for the presidential primaries that could reverberate down the ballot. 

At the top of the Republican race, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is looking to guard his home turf against billionaire Donald Trump, whose momentum is strong after victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The unruly contest is already being cited as driving record-high turnout in early voting, a trend expected to continue into an action-packed election day across a state in which many races are effectively decided in the primaries.

"I think this is the year of chaos, uncertainty and breaking all the political rules," said Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican strategist based in Austin. "I think that’ll be true in Texas."

"You’re going to see things that are totally opposite of each other because it’s just a huge, new electorate that is weighing in," Steinhauser said.

Nowhere could that be more true than in the GOP race for the White House, where Cruz is expected to carry his home state, but it is uncertain by how many of its 155 delegates he will be able to nab — and how big his lead over Trump will be. Texas is the one state where Cruz is most favored to win Tuesday out of the 11 mostly southern states voting in what is being called the "SEC primary."

"Ted's going to win Texas," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told reporters Thursday in Houston. "We want to win by the biggest margin."

On the Democratic side of the presidential race, where 255 delegates are at stake in Texas, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to notch a potentially double-digit victory against U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The win would validate the Clinton's belief that the primary schedule favors her as it moves on to diverse states such as Texas, where black and Latino voters overwhelmingly lean Democratic.

At the congressional level, a number of Republican primaries are worthy of attention. The most competitive is in Texas' 19th Congressional District, where six serious candidates are squaring off to replace U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock in what will likely lead to a runoff. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, is hoping to keep a second round from happening against three challengers claiming to be more conservative than him. 

The Democrats also have some drama on the congressional ballot. In Houston, former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia is challenging U.S. Rep. Gene Green, arguing his district needs better Hispanic representation. In South Texas, U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa's decision to step down has led to a six-way Democratic race to replace him that includes Dolly Elizondo, potentially the first Latina to represent Texas in Congress.

After electing a host of new statewide officials next year, that section of the ballot is relatively sparse this time around. Seven Republicans and three Democrats are vying to replace David Porter on the Railroad Commission, a low-key race compared to last year's attention-grabbing contests for statewide office. Three justices on the state Supreme Court face challengers of varying competitiveness: Place 3 incumbent Debra Lehrmann is up against Michael Massengale, a judge on the Houston-based 1st Court of Appeals; Place 5 incumbent Paul Green is on the ballot against former state Rep. Rick Green; and Place 9 incumbent Eva Guzman faces Joe Pool Jr., who has unsuccessfully run for the court twice before.

At the legislative level, House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio is looking to avoid a runoff against two challengers from his right, Jeff Judson and Sheila Bean. Straus is a perennial target of conservative activists who argue he is too moderate to lead the lower chamber. 

There are two open seats in the state Senate, one to replace Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay and the other Kevin Eltife of Tyler. A crowded Republican field is vying for Fraser's seat, with Austin optometrist Dawn Buckingham believed to be holding the poll position. The top two candidates to come after Eltife are state Reps. Bryan Hughes of Mineola and David Simpson of Longview, with Hughes seen as the favorite to at least head into a runoff with the most votes.

In Texas House contests, much of Republicans' attention is being paid to whether two longtime incumbents, Byron Cook of Corsicana and Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, can hold on to their seats against political newcomers Thomas McNutt and Bo French, respectively. There is action elsewhere on the ballot: Jonathan Stickland of Bedford, a conservative firebrand in the lower chamber, is up against Bedford pastor Scott Fisher, who has pounced on a series of insensitive comments Stickland made online several years ago.

On the Democratic side of legislative races, many eyes are trained on San Antonio, where state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer is in a grudge match against state Sen. José Menéndez after losing a special election to him last year. Also commanding some attention is Austin, the liberal stronghold where seven Democrats are on the ballot to replace longtime state Rep. Elliott Naishtat.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday in Texas.

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Politics 2016 elections