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Texas runoffs see tea party, mainline GOP clash

Both candidates blitzed Texas airwaves with ads and interviews on Monday, hoping to get supporters to the polls in the heat of the summer.

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This June 22 photo shows US Senate Candidates Ted Cruz (l.) and Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst after their televised debate in Dallas. In a primary that represents one of the nation’s most vivid contrasts between the GOP establishment and the tea party, longtime Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst faces a major threat from former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz.

LM Otero/AP

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Stark choices awaited Texas voters in Tuesday's runoff elections as tea party-backed candidates faced establishment Republicans while new leaders emerge among Democrats.

The race for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate has gained national attention, with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst offering his 14 years of experience against Ted Cruz, a tea party insurgent running in his first election. National conservative groups, including FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth, have spent millions to help Cruz match Dewhurst's personal fortune to create a neck-and-neck race.

Both candidates blitzed Texas airwaves with ads and interviews on Monday, hoping to get supporters to the polls in the heat of the summer. Texas primary elections are normally held in the spring, but a federal lawsuit over redistricting delayed voting until late May and pushed runoffs into the summer.

Enthusiasm for the Senate race, though, has kept turnout higher than normal for a runoff election. Experts are predicting more than 800,000 voters to cast ballots, out of about 13 million eligible voters. Across the state, there are 25 Republican runoffs and 12 Democratic races.

Democrats also will decide their nominee for the Senate on Tuesday, choosing between former state Rep. Paul Sadler and retired educator Grady Yarbrough. Neither candidate has raised much money. Yarbrough has failed to comply with federal election laws concerning where he had raised money or how he has spent it, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Some of the down-ballot races are boosting turnout as well. On the Democratic side, fierce races for U.S. House seats will be settled in Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio. Both seats will likely be decided by minority voters.

State Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth is running against longtime Hispanic activist and former state Rep. Domingo Garcia for a new congressional district in the Metroplex. Veasey turned out African-American voters in Fort Worth in the May 29 primary, and Garcia was trying to mobilize his base in Dallas.

Garcia campaign workers enthusiastically camped on a street corner early Tuesday near a polling place in west Dallas, where 58-year-old Rudy Gonzalez cast his ballot for the Democrat. Gonzalez said he was motivated by his belief that Garcia was "in tune" with issues affecting voters, and said he was working to keep President Barack Obama in office because of health care reform.

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"I'm 58 years old and I need it," Gonzalez said. "Even with two jobs, I can't afford it."

In San Antonio, former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez is running for a chance to regain his seat from Republican Quico Canseco, but first must defeat state Rep. Pete Gallego, a rising star in the Democratic Party.

Republicans are battling it out in congressional districts in Central Texas and East Texas. Roger Williams, a close ally of Gov. Rick Perry, is running for an Austin-based seat against tea party-favorite Wes Riddle. State Rep. Randy Weber of Pearland is running to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Ron Paul against Felicia Harris, a Republican party activist.

Some of the fiercest races took place for Texas House and Senate seats and the outcomes could make the Legislature a more tumultuous place.

Longtime veteran Republican Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio has faced a tough runoff campaign from emergency room physician Donna Campbell, a tea party leader making her second bid for office.

In House races, senior committee chairmen Rep. Sid Miller of Stephenville and Rep. Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville were forced into runoffs as part of anti-incumbent, tea party insurgencies. Miller faces family doctor J.D. Sheffield, of Gatesville, and Hopson, a formed Democrat, is running against Travis Clardy, an attorney from Nacogdoches.

Overall on Tuesday, voters will decide runoffs in two Railroad Commission races, one Supreme Court race, three State Board of Education races, eight U.S. House races and 17 Texas Legislature races.

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