Two of the most fiercely fought Texas primary elections arrive today, capping months of infighting in both the Democratic and Republican parties that sparked a barrage of robo-calls, mailers and TV and radio ads.
But some political observers fear that many voters will stay away from the polls today -- for reasons ranging from the lack of a hotly contested presidential primary to the fact that the election falls the day after Memorial Day -- though there are heated races on the ballot stretching from Congress to constables.
"Texas always has low turnout," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "But the fact that the election was changed from its normal March date to essentially the first week of summer -- not to mention that the Republican presidential contest is all but over -- suggests turnout will be low."
Polls are open today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
More than 560,000 Texans in the state's 15 largest counties, including more than 50,000 in Tarrant County, voted early in person or by mail, hoping to avoid a potentially confusing election day that was delayed for months by a contentious redistricting process and legal wrangling.
Election officials say there are hot-ticket races on the ballot - such as the multimillion-dollar races for the U.S. Senate and House seats -- but they fear that the presidential race, where Democratic President Barack Obama has already clinched his party's nomination and GOP front-runner Mitt Romney is on the verge of doing the same, may not propel voters to the polls.
The secretary of state's office, which oversees elections, declined to predict turnout, and many say it will not approach the historic turnout, which reached into the 30 percent range, in 2008's fierce Democratic primary battle between Obama and Hillary Clinton.
"Turnout is expected to be lower than that but fairly typical," said Steve Raborn, Tarrant County's elections administrator.
In 2010, around 15 percent of local voters cast ballots compared with single-digit turnout in 2006 and 2004. "We'll probably see the low to mid-double digits," Raborn said.
The weather shouldn't be a factor.
Today should start out a little muggy, with lows in the 70s and highs in the low to mid-90s. But there is a chance of isolated thunderstorms throughout the Metroplex, said Eric Martello, a senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.
Top of the ballot
One of the hottest races on the ballot is the battle for the first open U.S. Senate seat in Texas since 2002, featuring Republicans Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, former Solicitor General Ted Cruz, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, former ESPN analyst Craig James, Glenn Addison, "Doc Joe" Agris, Curt Cleaver, Ben Gambini and Lela Pittenger.
With so many GOP candidates, the question is whether any candidate can win outright to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison. Some also wonder whether Democratic Senate candidates could be headed to their own runoff, as Addie Dainell Allen, Sean Hubbard, Paul Sadler and Grady Yarbrough battle for their party's nomination.
"It's hard to tell ... exactly what is happening," said Jason Stanford, an Austin-based Democratic strategist and commentator. "We're in the fog of war right now."
Races where no candidate draws at least 50 percent of the vote today will head to a July 31 runoff between the top two vote getters. That could easily happen in a handful of congressional races.
In the 33rd Congressional District, Democrats David Alameel, Chrysta Castaneda, Domingo Garcia, Jason Roberts and Steve Salazar, all of Dallas; Carlos Quintanilla of Irving; Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks, the Rev. Kyev Tatum, Tarrant County Justice of the Peace Manuel Valdez and state Rep. Marc Veasey, all of Fort Worth; and J.R. Molina of Burleson are in the race. Republicans Chuck Bradley of Fort Worth and Charles King of Red Oak face off in their own primary.
In District 25, Republicans Ernie Beltz Jr. of Austin, Bill Burch of Grand Prairie, former Highland Village Mayor Dianne Costa, James Dillon of Liberty Hill, Dave Garrison of Austin, Justin Hewlett of Cleburne, Charlie Holcomb of Wimberley, Brian Matthews of Austin, Wes Riddle of Gatesville, Chad Wilbanks of Austin, former Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams of Austin and former Texas Secretary of State and Weatherford car dealer Roger Williams of Austin are in the race. Democrat Elaine Henderson of Lago Vista will face the GOP primary winner in November.
"Primaries are very hard to judge," said Kyle Kondik, House editor for political scientist Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball newsletter. "It seems that voters are willing to change their minds at the last minute."
Hotly contested legislative seats on the ballot include the race in Texas Senate District 9, which pits state Reps. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and Todd Smith of Euless, as well as state Rep. Lon Burnam's re-election bid in District 90, where Carlos Vasquez is the challenger. In the GOP race for state Senate District 10, state Rep. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth, and Derek Cooper face off.
Other races include those for state posts such as railroad commissioner, as well as judicial posts and the State Board of Education.
On a local level, voters will weigh in on Republican races ranging from county commissioner to GOP county chairman. There will also be nonbinding referendums on the ballot on issues ranging from public prayer to redistricting.
On the Democratic ballot, voters also will decide several local races and will be asked to respond to nonbinding referendums addressing immigration, college education and casino gambling.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610