AUSTIN (AP) — The Republican primary battle for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas has already been nasty and expensive — and now it's just getting started.
Establishment GOP favorite and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst beat former state solicitor general Ted Cruz by 10 percentage points Tuesday, but fell well short of breaking the 50 percent margin of votes cast needed to avoid a runoff.
The pair emerged from a nine-candidate Republican field and will square off in a second round of voting July 31.
That means nine more weeks of a race drawing national attention because a victory by Cruz may mirror an upset similar to Richard Mourdock's ousting of 36-year Senate veteran Richard Lugar in Indiana.
On the Democratic side, no candidate in a field of four won a majority, setting up a runoff between former state Rep. Paul Sadler and perennial candidate Grady Yarbrough of San Antonio, who does not even have a campaign website.
Texas hasn't elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since Lloyd Bentsen in 1988, so the winner of the Republican primary is the favorite heading into November's general election.
The millionaire owner of energy consortiums, Dewhurst won the endorsement of Gov. Rick Perry and poured $15 million of his own money into his campaign. Cruz, a fiery attorney backed by the tea party and social conservatives, spent just $470,000 from his personal funds, but got millions in support from national grassroots groups, including the Washington-based, anti-tax Club For Growth.
Cruz also was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who called the runoff, "a major victory for the conservative movement."
''Ted Cruz was virtually unknown when this race began, and he was drastically outspent by his multimillionaire opponent," DeMint said in a statement Wednesday.
The Republican fight has already been a vicious one, with Cruz branding Dewhurst as a "moderate" willing to compromise on key issues and Dewhurst attacking his opponent for his law firms representing of a Chinese tire manufacturer in an intellectual property dispute with an American company, and implying that Cruz supports amnesty for illegal immigrants.
More mudslinging will surely be on the way.
"The voters of Texas want a leader who will be a strong conservative and a fighter, and the lieutenant governors record has not been conservative," Cruz told The Associated Press, after celebrating Tuesdays results with a group of raucous supporters in Houston. "He has consistently compromised with Democrats, increased spending and increased taxes.
"Despite a mountain of money trying to paint a very different picture, the voters of Texas held him accountable."
Dewhurst held his own party in Houston, but the scene was more subdued. He decried the outside groups supporting Cruz for attempting to meddle in Texas politics.
"Tonight, is a clear message to Washington special interests: don't mess with Texas. Texans want to elect their own United States senator," Dewhurst said. "Today, Republican voters made a choice between a conservative Texas businessman and Washington special interests."
Cruz brushed off criticism he was too reliant on out-of-state backers.
"I am honored to have earned the support from conservatives all over the country," he said. "This has been a victory for conservatives throughout Texas and nationally because the Senate is a national battleground."
But Dewhurst maintains that his record overseeing the Texas Senate during nearly nine years as lieutenant governor speaks for itself, and points out that he is a key reason Texas has become one of the most conservative states in the country. He also said, however that he was proud of occasionally compromising to ensure key legislation moved forward.
"The word moderate was meant to be a negative on me. I'm a proud conservative," Dewhurst said. "At the same time, I will work to move what is in the best interests of the state of Texas as I always have over the last nine years."
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