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4168Dewhurst & Cruz advance to run-off

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  • Greg Cannon
    May 29, 2012

      Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Ted Cruz square off for US Senate seat
      WILL WEISSERT,Associated Press
      Posted: 05/29/2012 08:34:33 PM MDT

      AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The Republican nomination fight for U.S. Senate in Texas quickly became a two-man race Tuesday, with mainstream Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and tea party favorite Ted Cruz racing far ahead of seven other candidates.

      With early returns trickling in, Dewhurst was leading but had not yet clinched the majority needed to avoid a runoff. The likely third-place finisher, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, conceded defeat with fewer than 10 percent of precincts reporting results.

      Leppert had billed himself as a fiscal conservative with 25 years of experience as a CEO of businesses large and small, but was seen as an underdog as the election approached.

      His departure means the race in fiercely red-state Texas has largely become a referendum on which Republican candidate voters perceive as the more conservative: Dewhurst or Cruz.

      Dewhurst says he helped make the Lone Star state one of the country's most conservative, having held the powerful lieutenant governorship since 2003. But Cruz, an attorney and former state solicitor general, says the tea party wave that began in 2010 is still going strong.

      It's been a bitter battle to fill the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Tuesday's results may just be the beginning. Also seeking the GOP nomination were ex-NFL running back and ESPN announcer Craig James and five other, minor characters. If no candidate wins a majority of the votes cast, the top two finishers head to a runoff July 31.

      On the Democratic side, former state Rep. Paul Sadler advanced to a runoff but did not receive enough votes to win outright. Also seeking the party's nomination are political newcomer Sean Hubbard and frequent candidate Grady Yarbrough. However, whoever wins the Republican primary is expected to easily prevail in November's general election.

      Dewhurst, the millionaire owner of natural gas businesses, has won the endorsement of Gov. Rick Perry and poured $15 million of his own money into his campaign. Leppert spent about $4 million in personal funds, and Cruz spent $470,000. Cruz also got millions from national tea party groups, which branded Dewhurst as too moderate.

      Speaking to reporters at a Houston delicatessen before the polls closed, Dewhurst said, "Mr. Cruz has tried to make this a referendum on how conservative I am because he has no background, he has no record."

      Voting in Houston, 68-year-old Kenneth Marx said he supported Dewhurst because of reports Cruz's law firm had represented a Chinese tire manufacturer in an intellectual property dispute with an American company. He said he didn't necessarily think one was more conservative than the other but, "they can't be too conservative."

      Donald Hood, a 74-year-old retired soldier in Plano in suburban Dallas, said the intraparty fight between Dewhurst and Cruz troubled him, even though he's a self-described "extreme conservative."

      "I'd hate to see the tea party and Republicans be two separate parties," Hood said. "That would dilute the vote, and Democrats would take everything."

      Turnout appeared to be low Tuesday as sweltering heat, confusion over a primary date twice delayed by redistricting legal battles, and Memorial Day weekend travels kept voters away.

      Of the 6,016 registered voters in the six precincts at one Houston location, just 43 had voted by the late afternoon. Jim Alston voted for Cruz, but blamed low turnout on people being fed up with candidate bickering.

      "You get tired of hearing all that on the news," the 68-year-old said. "Fussing at each other and stretching the truth."


      Associated Press Ramit Plushnick-Masti and Juan Lozano in Houston and Linda Stewart Ball in Dallas contributed to this report.