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Texas Republicans Roll Out New Map

Polls opened early Tuesday in the first primary using congressional voting districts redrawn in favor of Republicans, who have tried to set up a battle of survival for incumbent Texas Democrats.

Besides congressional races, voters will decide a primary race for Texas Railroad Commission and contests for the Texas Supreme Court, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, State Board of Education and the Texas Legislature.

On the primary's eve, President Bush raised $1.5 million for his campaign at a Houston GOP event. Other politicians fanned out across the state Monday to put the finishing touches on their campaigns. Ten presidential candidates will be listed on the Democratic ballot.

However, Texas won't play a big role in choosing the Democratic presidential nominee because John Kerry is the only major candidate left in that race.

Without contested presidential primaries, one election official predicted overall turnout for the primary, to be on the low side despite some interesting local and regional contests.

"These down-ballot races, they just don't carry the momentum to get voters out," said Dallas County elections administrator Bruce Sherbet.

But others say turnout is higher during presidential years. In two weeks of early voting that concluded Friday, a total of 272,722 ballots were cast in the state's 15 most populous counties, the Texas Secretary of State's Office reported Monday. The office estimated that nearly 1.7 million people, or 14 percent of the state's more than 12 million registered voters, will cast primary ballots.

Some of the heaviest early voting came along the U.S.-Mexico border in Hidalgo County, the southern population base of the new congressional District 25, and Austin's Travis County, the northern base of the district.

Some of the most hard-fought and expensive primary battles came in key congressional races where the GOP hoped to take seats away from Democratic incumbents and snare the advantage in Texas' evenly split 32-member congressional delegation.

Congressional districts were redrafted by the GOP-controlled Legislature in October and Texas' 32-member delegation is evenly split between the parties. Republicans hope that after November, they'll have the largest Republican delegation in the country with at least 22 seats.

Five-term congressman Lloyd Doggett from Austin chose to run in the heavily Democratic District 25 rather than risk staying in his old district, redrawn to include more GOP-leaning voters. In Texas, congressional candidates don't have to live in the district they represent.

Doggett and his primary opponent, former state judge Leticia Hinojosa, kept up their intensive battle on the airwaves and the campaign trail in the majority-Latino district, which stretches 350 miles from Austin to Brownsville, right up to election day.

Hinojosa, who, promoted herself as the hometown candidate from Hidalgo County, said voters were turned off by Doggett's choppy Spanish in a TV ad.

"You can't always have an interpreter around, and they want to be able to go up and tell you their problems," Hinojosa said.

Financial support for Doggett poured in from national groups of union members, car dealers and teachers. Doggett has collected more than $2.5 million so far for his campaign.

Doggett said Hinojosa's support in her home community was lacking.

"If she were as strong as she pretends to be she would be talking about her accomplishments rather than slinging mud at me," he said.

The winning Democrat will face either Republican Rebecca Armendariz Klein or Regner Capener in November, but a Democrat is expected to win the seat.

In District 28, U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, a Democrat from San Antonio, faces a challenge from former Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar of Laredo. Cuellar almost beat Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla of San Antonio in 2002.

In Houston, Democrat Chris Bell, a congressional freshman, runs in District 9, where about 66 percent of the voters are black or Hispanic. Bell, who is white, faces two black candidates in the Democratic primary: Al Green, a former Houston NAACP president, and lawyer Beverly Spencer.

In the Republican primary, District 17, which includes Waco, College Station and President Bush's Crawford ranch, the race got contentious between front-runners Dot Snyder, a former Waco school board member, and Arlene Wohlgemuth, a state representative from Burleson.

An ad by Snyder accused Wohlgemuth of opposing efforts to clean up Lake Waco pollution caused by upstream dairy farms. Wohlgemuth accused Snyder of voting to raise property taxes the five years she was on the school board. Retired Army Col. Dave McIntyre is also in the race.

The Republican winner will face 13-year-incumbent U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, a Waco Democrat.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall of Rockwall flew into Dallas on Air Force One with President Bush for one fund-raiser. GOP leaders have poured money into Hall's campaign since he switched from Democrat to the GOP in January. Hall faces Mike Murphy of Frisco and Mike Mosher of Paris in the District 4 primary.

In the highest-level statewide race, Texas Railroad Commission chairman Victor Carrillo continued to show his big-name backing Monday. Carrillo, invited by the Bush campaign, was part of the official Republican welcoming delegation for the president in Dallas.

Carrillo's three GOP primary opponents are Robert Butler of Palestine, Douglas Deffenbaugh of San Antonio and K. Dale Henry of Mullin.

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