Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst failed to receive a majority of GOP primary votes in the state's Senate race Tuesday, ensuring he will face former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz in a July 31 runoff for the GOP nomination. With 32 percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press called a runoff with Dewhurst leading Cruz 47 percent to 32 percent, followed by former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert at 13 percent.
Dewhurst entered the race as a heavy favorite to capture the GOP nomination thanks to fourteen years as a statewide elected official and an immense personal fortune. Dewhurst vastly outspent his opponents in the lead-up to the GOP primary, blanketing the Lone Star State with television ads.
The two clashed over illegal immigration last week when Dewhurst accused Cruz of aligning himself with groups who support amnesty for illegal immigrants in a radio ad on Thursday, according to the Dallas Morning News.
A spokesman for Cruz told the News that he does not support amnesty. His supporters said the ad played on anti-Hispanic fears.
Cruz emerged as a conservative star in his first run for public office. He scored endorsements from powerful conservative groups like the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund while also winning over local tea party groups across Texas. Cruz and his allies painted Dewhurst as too moderate for Texas' conservative primary electorate.
Dewhurst attempted to fend off Cruz's surging popularity with a series of negative ads. The most common line of attack centered on Cruz's private sector work representing a Chinese tire company accused of stealing blueprints from an American company.
While Dewhurst outpaced Cruz by a healthy margin on Tuesday, the runoff could prove more challenging. With two more months to raise his name recognition and chip away at the frontrunner's lead, Cruz could capitalize on what is expected to be a low-turnout late summer election. On the other hand, Dewhurst has demonstrated a willingness to tap into his personal wealth, and he will likely outspend Cruz by a wide margin over the next two months.
Like Dewhurst, Leppert spent millions of his own money on his campaign, but he failed to catch on with Republican voters outside of Dallas. His presence in the race may have kept Dewhurst under 50 percent, though. Meanwhile, former ESPN college football analyst Craig James earned just 4 percent of the vote.
The eventual Republican nominee will face the winner of a Democratic runoff between former state Rep. Paul Sadler and the second-place finisher -- either retired teacher Grady Yarbrough or Homeland Security disaster assistance worker Addie Allen. With 37 percent of precincts reporting, Sadler led Yarbrough 35 percent to 26 percent, followed by Allen with 23 percent.
Republicans are expected to easily hold onto the seat being vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Reporter Stephanie Czekalinski contributed to this report.