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Texas Voters Head to the Polls in Key Primary

Texas voters go to the polls today to choose Republican and Democratic candidates for governor in what could be one of the highest turnouts for a primary in state history.

State statistics show 491,000 voters statewide - or 6 percent of total registered voters - cast ballots early for the governor's primaries. In particular, the Republican primary has drawn heavy interest. Two popular candidates are squaring off against each other.

The turnout is nearly double the number of early votes cast in the state's previous gubernatorial primaries.

Usually, only 5 percent of registered voters cast their vote in a primary, says Chris Turner, an Austin-based Republican strategist. That includes early voters and those who show up on Election Day. Early voters have already surpassed that figure, he says.

"You're already beyond what would be a traditional primary," Turner says. "Turnout has been explosive, just off the charts."

The most closely watched race has been the Republican primary, which has pitted incumbent Gov. Rick Perry against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Republicans have held the governor's seat since 1995.

Perry, who is vying for his second re-election, has portrayed Hutchison as a Washington insider, gaining a double-digit lead over her in polls, says Ross Ramsey, managing editor of The Texas Tribune, a non-profit political website.

Hutchison, meanwhile, has accused Perry of cronyism and assigning friends to key posts.

A recent Rasmussen Report survey found Perry with 48 percent of the vote to Hutchison's 27 percent. Debra Medina, a candidate politically aligned with Libertarians, is in third place with 16 percent.

A candidate needs 50 percent of the vote to win outright. If not, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held April 13.

A former Air Force pilot, Perry, 59, joined the state Legislature in 1984. He became lieutenant governor in 1998 and took over the governor's office two years later when George W. Bush was elected president. Perry was elected to the seat in 2002 and re-elected in 2006.

A popular name in Texas politics, Hutchison, 66, became the first Republican woman elected to the state House of Representatives in 1972. A former TV broadcaster, she was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1993, becoming the only woman ever elected to represent Texas in the Senate, according to her campaign.

The winner of the Republican race will face off against either Bill White, the Democratic front-runner and former Houston mayor, or businessman Farouk Shami in November.

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