By Michael Graczyk
DALLAS — Texas voters backed Mitt Romney for president on Tuesday and made fellow Republican Ted Cruz the state's first Hispanic U.S. senator.
The GOP dominance at the top of the ticket was no surprise. Democrats haven't won statewide office in Texas since 1994, the longest state losing streak for the party in the country.
Romney took Texas' 38 electoral votes by building a nearly 3-2 margin lead over President Barack Obama.
In the balloting to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Cruz similarly topped underfunded former Democratic state Rep. Paul Sadler. Cruz was virtually unknown as a former state solicitor general before he used tea party backing to emerge from a crowded GOP primary field as runner-up to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, then swept by the mainstream party choice in the runoff to clinch the Republican nomination.
Cruz told supporters in Houston he was confident Romney would win the presidential race but said if Obama prevailed and followed through on campaign promises to bring people together to reduce the deficit and get people working, "then I will work with him."
"But if he is re-elected and intends to continue down this same path, then I will spend every waking moment to stop it," Cruz said.
Sadler said he called Cruz to congratulate him.
"It's worth the fight, our state is worth the fight, our country is worth the fight," Sadler said of his long-shot campaign. "We expanded the debate and made people think maybe about issues a little deeper."
Voters waited at least 30 minutes at some Texas precincts earlier in the day although state officials predicted overall turnout likely would be below levels of four years ago.
"I don't think you should take money from people just because they are successful," said Bob Ramey, 61, an El Paso CPA, explaining why he couldn't vote for Obama, who advocates higher taxes for wealthier Americans.
But Ben Hernandez, 59, who owns a construction company with his wife in League City outside Houston, credited the president with a good job in his first term and deserving of their votes.
"He did what he had to do," Mary Sue Hernandez, 52, said. "He came in at the toughest time and he did well."
Some nail-biters loomed in the congressional races where Texas is getting four new representatives thanks to adding 4.3 million residents between 2000 and 2010. Republicans took 20 seats, Democrats had 13 and three were too close to call. Two years ago, Republicans captured 22 of the then-32 seats possible.
A tight race unfolded in a sprawling congressional district stretching from San Antonio to eastern El Paso County, where freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Francisco "Quico" Canseco held a slim early lead over Democratic state Rep. Pete Gallego.
Another squeaker was shaping up for the seat Ron Paul is leaving along the Gulf Coast, where Republican state Rep. Randy Weber held a narrow early advantage over former Democratic Congressman Nick Lampson.
In the winners with surprising backgrounds category was Republican former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, who served one term in Congress starting in 1994 but accused the government of "executing" members of the Branch Davidian cult after the siege near Waco. He was headed back to Capitol Hill after waging a low-profile campaign in a district north and east of Houston.
Beto O'Rourke also was going to Congress for the first time from heavily Democratic District 16. He is a guitar-playing, twice-arrested former El Paso city councilman who once advocated for legalizing marijuana but nonetheless stunned eight-term incumbent Silvestre Reyes during the Democratic primary.
In the Texas House, Republicans looked likely to lose the 102-vote supermajority that had allowed them to pass legislation even if their Democratic colleagues failed to show up for work. But the GOP was expected to continue to dominate the legislative agenda. In all, 87 of the House's 150 seats were contested, with 14 of those races looking truly competitive.
In the state Senate, all eyes were on an expensive and increasingly nasty battle between Fort Worth Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis and challenger and tea party Republican state Rep. Mark Shelton. The pair was locked in a nearly even race in early results. A Davis victory should keep Republicans, who hold 19 of 31 seats, from moving closer to a 21-seat supermajority.
Also, Democratic Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, a 24-year legislative veteran in the Rio Grande Valley, beat state Rep. Raul Torres, who gave up his Texas House seat to make the race.
Among the winners was Democrat Mario Gallegos, Jr., an incumbent from Houston who died in October of liver failure.
All 15 of the Texas Board of Education's seats are also on the ballot. The board's makeup of four Democrats and 11 Republicans could possibly change, though a larger question is if social conservatives will gain more influence.
Six of the board's current Republicans are already considered social conservatives — an ideological bloc that if it holds or strengthens could dominate discussions next year as the state orders new science textbooks. That may mean a replay of 2009, when some school board members promoted creationism during discussions on curriculum while pushing for Texas public schools to teach "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution.
Among statewide court races, Republican Sharon Keller won a fourth six-year term as presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Keller gained notoriety in 2007 for closing the state's highest criminal court precisely at 5 p.m., barring a final-hour appeal from a death row inmate who was executed that evening.