High Runoff Turnout Expected As Polls Open
By ADAM RUSSELL
Early voting totals show strong interest in runoff races as statewide and local candidates make feverish, last-ditch pushes to get voters to polls today.
In Smith County, 21 polling locations will open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for Election Day.
Smith County Republicans have seven runoffs to decide today, including statewide races for U.S. Senate between Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz; two Texas Railroad Commissioner positions, and Texas Supreme Court Justice Place 4. Democratic voters have a runoff for U.S. Senate between Grady Yarbrough and Paul Sadler.
Local races for Smith County sheriff between Chris Green and Larry Smith; Precinct 3 county commissioner between incumbent Terry Phillips and Ronnie Pilcher; and Precinct 3 constable between Jim Blackmon and Scott McAuley, will decide who will take those positions in January.
Voters who cast primary ballots for Republican candidates must vote for Republican runoff candidates. The same goes for voters who cast ballots for Democrats in their party's primary.
Voters who did not cast ballots during the primary are free to choose either party's runoff ballot, but only can vote in a single party's runoff.
Almost 12,000 voters cast ballots during the five-day early voting period. Republicans showed up in force, casting 11,698 ballots while 200 Democrats visited polls early. By comparison the two-week early voting period during the May 29 primary drew 12,742 voters.
High turnout in Smith County doesn't surprise Republican Chairman Ashton Oravetz. The sheriff's race has been a "one-on-one local contest to get the vote out," he said. The combination of local races and a hotly contested race to replace Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the U.S. Senate has people interested in visiting the polls, Oravetz said.
Oravetz said he would not be surprised if more voters showed up in the runoff than in the primary. Typical runoff turnouts equal around half the primary turnout, he said.
Today "is going to be a very interesting day," he said.
Oravetz said East Texas will be a critical battleground in the race for Senate. Dewhurst carried the region during the primary and needs to hold on, he said.
Dewhurst performed better in Smith County and Cruz underperformed compared to statewide primary returns. Statewide, Dewhurst received 44.6 percent compared to 45.6 percent of the Smith County vote May 29, while Cruz got 33 percent, compared to 34 percent statewide.
On Friday, Dewhurst began an impromptu swing through East Texas. He spent the late afternoon in Tyler, standing in the sun near the downtown early voting location to shake voters' hands.
Cruz's campaign appeared to be surging over the weekend. Supportive Texas showings by Tea Party favorites Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum, and double-digit leads in two polls may have energized voters who consider Dewhurst a moderate, Oravetz said.
The race to succeed 35-year Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith has created a hotly contested runoff between Green and Smith.
Oravetz said he believes most probable voters decided on a candidate when the race first began and will likely stick with their man. He said the eventual winner will be determined by their ability to get out the vote.
The two candidates engaged in several debates when it was a four-person field. They said they will continue to engage potential voters to remind them about the runoff.
Green and Smith said they will use social media, emails, text messages, phone calls and have volunteers making last-minute pushes to get registered voters to the polls. Both said the waning moments of the runoff campaign will be spent convincing people to brave the summer heat and vote.