6:30 p.m. Update: Tea party darling Cruz favorite in US Senate race
AUSTIN (AP) - Ted Cruz's two-year campaign to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has taken him from virtual unknown to prohibitive favorite, and he was poised Tuesday to become Texas' first Hispanic elected to the U.S. Senate.
Voters were choosing between him and Democrat Paul Sadler in this overwhelmingly Republican state, and Cruz was expected to win in a landslide. But even before the polls close, Cruz has already changed the nature of Texas politics by beating one of the state's most formidable establishment figures, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
Dewhurst was the presumed next senator from Texas when the state Legislature adjourned in June 2011. Most observers considered Cruz, who had never before won an election, an extreme fringe candidate vying for recognition from the tea party wing of the GOP.
Cruz, however, started a long-march campaign that took him to dozens of candidate forums that Dewhurst skipped. Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, spent hundreds of hours convincing grassroots Republicans that a vote for Dewhurst was a vote for moderation, and that he was the true conservative in the race.
Dewhurst didn't take Cruz seriously until he came in second in the Republican primary and forced a July runoff. But by then it was too late, and Cruz won handily.
At Walnut Hill elementary school in north Dallas on Tuesday, 61-year-old Jamie Parker said she didn't support Cruz during the primaries but has since warmed to him.
"I'm pretty much anti-Democrat right now," said Parker, who with her husband has a business that sells computers to dentists.
Sadler was also an unexpected candidate, stepping up after retired Lt. Gen Ricardo Sanchez dropped out.
Yet Texas Democrats did not turn out for Sadler, giving him less than $1 million in a state where a statewide campaign typically costs more than $6 million. Sadler didn't have enough money to flood television airwaves with commercials in most parts of the state, and struggled to spread his message since Cruz only agreed to attend two debates - one broadcast during Friday night high school football games.
Sadler put on an old-school campaign, offering policies typical of southern, moderate Democrats.
He promised to support President Barack Obama's health care law, tax proposals and immigration policy - three positions that Cruz roundly condemned.
Betty Blanton, a 60-year-old educator and administrator at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, rode her bike to an elementary school to cast her ballot.
"They're just way too far right," she said of the tea party.
"Our population is changing culturally," Blanton said. "We're all different, but we're all the same. We have to move together."
But Bob Ramey, an accountant from El Paso who described himself as fiercely Republican, said he took pleasure Tuesday in voting against Democratic proposals to raise taxes on wealthier Americans.
"I don't think you should take money from people just because they are successful," Ramey said.