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Texas races look set for run-offs

AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- Voters in President Bush's home state went to the polls Tuesday in a primary election to pick candidates for governor, a key seat in the U.S. Senate and congressional, legislative and local posts from Texarkana to El Paso.

The already contentious Democratic race for governor got even more heated after local party officials in San Antonio, citing a shortage of elections staff, decided not to open dozens of polling stations. Signs forwarded voters to alternate locations, but some voters were still turned away when their names didn't appear on lists.

San Antonio is the hometown of one of the candidates, former Attorney General Dan Morales, and his parents' polling place was among those that didn't open.

Morales went to court Tuesday afternoon to ask that displaced voters be given three extra hours to vote by extending the poll closing time from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. (8 p.m. to 11 p.m. EST).

Officials with the campaign of his chief rival, millionaire Laredo businessman and political newcomer Tony Sanchez, said they would not oppose the request.

Local Democratic officials insisted no sinister motives were behind the decision to keep polling places closed, but Morales spokesman Jim Moore said, "The whole thing reeks."

In addition to picking their nominee for governor, Democrats -- hoping to revive their fortunes in a state where they currently don't hold a single statewide elected office -- will also choose a candidate for the Senate. Both are competitive races that may be headed to runoffs.

Highlighting the increasing importance of Latino voters in the Lone Star State -- the voting-age population is now almost 29 percent Hispanic in Texas -- is the fact that both main Democratic contenders for governor, Morales and Sanchez, are Hispanic.

One of the three major candidates in the Senate contest, Victor Morales (no relation to Dan Morales), also is Hispanic. He is running against former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, the first black mayor of a major Texas city, and Rep. Ken Bentsen, a Houston congressman and nephew of former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, who was the Democrats' 1988 vice presidential nominee.

A Dallas Morning News poll showed Sanchez, 59, with a lead over Dan Morales, 45, but with two other candidates in the race, he may not win the outright majority he needs to avoid an April 9 runoff.

The poll also showed the Democratic Senate primary is almost certainly headed to a runoff, with Kirk and Victor Morales running neck-and-neck ahead of Bentsen -- but with none of the three anywhere near a majority.

Victor Morales, 52, is a teacher from Crandall, near Dallas, who shocked the Texas political establishment six years ago when he came out of nowhere to win the Democratic nomination to face incumbent Phil Gramm, who has announced he will retire from the Senate when his current term expires.

In contrast to the battles on the Democratic side, on the GOP ballot, Gov. Rick Perry, who took over the top Texas post when Bush became president, faces no opposition. Republican Attorney General John Cornyn is a strong favorite to win the Senate nomination over four minor candidates, too.

In the state's congressional races, Scott Armey, 32, son of House Majority Leader Dick Armey, is running against five other candidates in the GOP race to succeed his retiring father in the 26th Congressional District, centered in the northern Dallas suburbs. The younger Armey is a county judge.

About 12.2 million Texans are registered to vote in the primary, according to the secretary of state's office.

--CNN Producer Robert Yoon contributed to this report




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