AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas is holding the nation's first primary election Tuesday with a political free-for-all in Republican races that could push the state further right, though Democrats are calling it the next big electoral battleground.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry has decided this would be his last of a record 14 years in office, and his looming exit has set off a scramble resulting in the most open races in Texas in more than a decade.
Republicans are favored to win them all come November — including Perry's seat, despite Democrat Wendy Davis building a national profile and an early $16 million fundraising haul to match. She has energized Texas Democrats, who haven't won a statewide race in 20 years but insist the tide is turning.
"If people don't start supporting the Democratic Party and voting as a Democrat, instead of being a Democrat voting in the Republican primary, then we're never going to win races and we're never going to establish ourselves as a serious party here," said Janet Veal, 43, a Texas Tech student adviser who cast a Democratic ballot in Lubbock.
That possibility, and the rising influence of tea party firebrand U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, has Texas Republicans flanking farther right this primary season. Some have blasted an "invasion" of immigrants coming across the Texas border, where immigration arrests have almost tripled in recent years but remain at about one-third of their historic highs. Others pledged to further tighten some of the nation's strictest abortion laws and doubled down on the state's gay marriage ban — one of several state bans recently ruled unconstitutional by federal courts.
"I think we need to bolster the border security and get tougher on immigration," 38-year-old conservative Republican Glendon Paulk said after voting in Lubbock. "I'm all for people who come over here legally but the illegal immigrants, it doesn't make sense for them to get a break while we're working and having to pay taxes."