Texans head to polls on Election Day

President, U.S. Senate, U.S. Reps among races on ballot

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HOUSTON - Texans headed to the polls Tuesday to decide the next president, a U.S. senator, U.S. representatives and a host of other elected officials.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Voters can only vote at the precinct where they are registered.

In addition to the president, Texans will be voting for a new U.S. Senator to replace the retiring Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Texas' top-of-the-ballot races are pretty much foregone conclusions.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will almost certainly win the state's 36 presidential electoral votes on Tuesday and tea party-backed Republican Ted Cruz will complete a once seemingly impossible rise from virtual unknown ex-state solicitor general to the first Hispanic from Texas elected to the U.S. Senate, replacing Hutchison.

Cruz's contest against underfunded, former Democratic state Rep. Paul Sadler was easy compared to his upset victory in the fierce Republican Senate primary, when he shocked Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the choice of Gov. Rick Perry and the mainstream GOP. A Democrat has not captured statewide office here since 1994.

Still Cruz spokesman James Bernsen said the campaign's not taking anything for granted.

"Ted has had a very vigorous schedule going all around the state," Bernsen said, "and that's going to continue right up to the end."

In Harris County, a new sheriff and district attorney will be decided. Incumbent Sheriff and Democrat Adrian Garcia is pitted against Republican Louis Guthrie, a law enforcement official with 21 years experience. Remington Alessi is running on the Green Party ticket.

Republican Mike Anderson is facing Democrat Lloyd Oliver in the race for District Attorney.

Another key race on the ballot is for State Senate District 6, which was held by Mario Gallegos, who passed away in October. His name remains on the ballot, along with Republican R.W. Bray. If Gallegos wins, Gov. Rick Perry will have until May to call for a special election.

At the bottom of the ballot is the Houston Independent School District's $1.9 billion bond proposal. The money would pay for major upgrades to 38 schools, impact 300 campuses and more than 200,000 students.

Nearly 800,000 Houstonians cast their ballot during early voting, which was a record turnout. Still, long lines are expected on Election Day.

Of the 198 major races across the state, only 19 look to be competitive.

Even with Texas getting four new representatives in Congress thanks to adding 4.3 million residents between 2000 and 2010, Republicans are likely to take 23 seats Tuesday, one more than the 22 they won out of 32 possible seats two years ago.

A genuine nail-bitter could be the race for the seat Ron Paul is giving up along the Gulf Coast, where Republican state Rep. Randy Weber is squaring off with former Democratic Congressman Nick Lampson.

Predicting winners in other races gets murkier. While Republicans should win both open slots on the Texas Railroad Commission, all 15 of the State Board of Education's seats are also on the ballot. The board's makeup of four Democrats and 11 Republicans could possibly change, though a larger question is if social conservatives will gain more influence.

Six of the board's current Republicans are already considered social conservatives -- an ideological bloc that if it holds or strengthens could dominate discussions next year as the state orders new science textbooks. That may mean a replay of 2009, when some school board members promoted creationism during discussions on curriculum while pushing for Texas public schools to teach "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution.

In the Texas House, Republicans look likely to lose the 102-vote supermajority that had allowed them to pass legislation even if their Democratic colleagues failed to show up for work. But the GOP will continue to dominate the legislative agenda. In all, 87 of the House's 150 seats are being contested, with 14 of those races looking truly competitive.

Voters will also decide on 29 positions for regional Court of Appeals districts, and Texas Supreme Court and Criminal Court of Appeals justices. Two of Texas' top judges are facing hefty ethics fines, but are also expected to win re-election.

The $100,000 fine in 2010 against Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, and the $29,000 fine levied against state Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht in 2008, rank among the largest in state history. But both judges have appealed, and their cases will remain pending until after Election Day.

KPRC Local 2 is hosting an Election Day phone bank with the League of Women Voters to answer all your election questions. Call 713-271-1905 until 7 p.m.

For information regarding Election Day polling locations for Harris County, you can also call 713-755-6965 or visit www.harrisvotes.com.

Copyright 2012 by Click2Houston.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.