AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The top candidates for Texas governor easily won primary elections on Tuesday while favorites of the conservative Tea Party movement shook up several races with established Republicans.
With most of the votes counted, Attorney General Greg Abbott, the leading Republican candidate for governor, and state Senator Wendy Davis, the top Democratic Party candidate, were headed for landslide victories, according to official results.
Incumbent U.S. Senator John Cornyn, a Republican, also won his race by a wide margin.
Run-off elections will be held on May 27 between the top two vote-getters in races where a single candidate did not win an outright majority.
The vote marks a changing of the guard for the Republicans with long-serving Governor Rick Perry not seeking re-election, perhaps to pursue a presidential run in 2016. Republicans dominate the statehouse and have not lost a statewide race since 1994.
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz has emerged as one of the leaders of the Texas Republicans, pushing politics in the already conservative state even further to the right, analysts said. He is a favorite of the Tea Party movement, which is considered both conservative and libertarian and also populist in advocating for a smaller federal government and tax cuts.
Perry, governor since 2000, has won praise for increasing jobs, exports and the size of the Texas economy, which has a $1.4 trillion annual GDP, slightly larger than South Korea‘s.
Perry has been criticized for not doing enough to improve schools or provide health insurance for the poor, while pushing a socially conservative agenda with increased abortion restrictions and a ban on same-sex marriage.
A host of Republican hopefuls have been trying to ride on the coattails of new star Cruz, turning campaigns into raucous affairs about how much they despise President Barack Obama’s healthcare policy, embrace the constitutional right to bear arms and see a need to raise alarms about undocumented immigrants.
“The Republican lieutenant governor’s race and attorney general’s race have been races to the right,” said Sherri Greenberg, Director at the Center for Politics and Governance at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.
These two races were headed for run-offs.
In the Dallas area, U.S. Representative Pete Sessions was the most prominent Republican in the Tea Party firing line but appeared to head off a challenge from Katrina Pierson, whose campaign website featured a picture of Cruz and a quote in which he calls her “an utterly fearless principled conservative.”
In neighboring Fort Worth, Cruz has endorsed local Tea Party leader Konni Burton as the Republican nominee for a state Senate seat. With about 80 percent of the precincts reporting, Burton was the front-runner in a crowded field with about 45 percent of the vote. The race was heading for a run-off.
State Senator Ken Paxton, running in a three-person Republican field for attorney general, has featured a comment on his website in which Cruz calls him a “conservative warrior.”
With most of the votes counted, Paxton had a 10 percentage point lead over Dan Branch, a long-serving member of the Texas House.
Editing by Grant McCool and Eric Walsh