Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and tea party-supported lawyer Ted Cruz emerged from a field of nine Tuesday to send the Republican race to replace retiring Texas U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to a runoff.
The Senate race was the most-watched among hundreds of races in the Texas primary for the Republican presidential nomination, Congress, the Legislature, judges and various state boards.
Dewhurst, who counted Gov. Rick Perry among his backers, held a double-digit lead over the former Texas solicitor general but couldn't close the deal by collecting more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid another contest with Cruz on July 31.
"Nothing worth fighting for is easy," Dewhurst said. "Make no mistake, Mr. Cruz. I'm a fighter."
"The runoff will be decided by the most informed, most active voters," Cruz said.
The secretary of state's office said more than 13 million Texans were registered to vote, but several polling places indicated voters stayed away, perhaps due in part to sweltering heat, confusion about a primary date that had been rescheduled twice because of redistricting disputes and Memorial Day weekend travels that kept some folks away from home.
"We're all trying to find where the voters are," Ellen Rusch, whose husband was seeking nomination for re-election as a judge, lamented from a suburban Dallas polling place.
Many polling places reported seeing just dozens of people out of thousands registered to vote. At one Houston polling station, an official read an electronic book while another rolled the border of a sheet of name-tag stickers into a ball.
The GOP U.S. Senate race drew the greatest attention in the weeks leading up to election day. In the Senate race, the strong showing by Cruz capped what's already a banner month for the tea party movement. Richard Mourdock ousted 36-year Senate veteran Richard Lugar in Indiana, and state Sen. Deb Fischer used strong tea party support to upset two better-known candidates in Nebraska.
"This race is Ground Zero, is Ground Zero for the moderate party establishment and the conservative tea party tidal wave that's sweeping this country," Cruz said.
Among others seeking the GOP senatorial nomination, Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert conceded less than an hour after polls closed throughout the state and ex-NFL running back and ESPN announcer Craig James failed to get out of single-digit percentages.
Dewhurst has overseen the Texas Senate as lieutenant governor since 2003, but Cruz claimed Dewhurst was too moderate for sometimes showing a willingness to compromise with Democratic state senators to ensure the flow of legislation.
Cruz drew support from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and national limited-government groups including the Club For Growth -- support Dewhurst dismissed as outsiders meddling in state politics.
On the Democratic side, former state Rep. Paul Sadler, from Henderson in East Texas, topped a field of four and qualified for a runoff. His opponent wasn't immediately decided.