FILE - This combination of Sept. 21, 2018, file photos show Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, left, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, right, during their first Senate debate in Dallas. The anniversary of the deadliest church shooting in the nation's history _ when a gunman killed 25 people in a rural church near San Antonio _ is the day before the Texas Senate election between Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and rising Democratic star Beto O'Rourke. But you wouldn't know it spending time with either campaign. That massacre in Sutherland Springs, and another Texas mass shooting at Santa Fe High School near Houston about six months later, aren't the race's top issues. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool, File)

Texas' early votes exceed total cast in 2014 election

November 03, 2018 - 3:49 pm

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Nearly 4.9 million people voted in Texas' 30 largest counties during the early-voting period, surpassing the total number of votes cast throughout the state in the last midterm election, according to secretary of state figures released Saturday.

State data show that more than 540,000 people in those 30 counties voted early on Friday, which was the last day of early voting in the state. Although Texas has 254 counties, the 30 largest are home to nearly 80 percent of the state's residents.

The nearly 4.9 million early votes exceed the 4.7 million total votes cast in Texas in the 2014 midterm election.

In the state's much-watched Senate race, both Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and Democrat Beto O'Rourke have said strong turnout would benefit them.

Cruz is seeking a second term against O'Rourke, a rising star in the Democratic Party who has shattered Senate campaign fundraising records despite shunning donations from outside political groups.

O'Rourke is trying to become Texas' first Democrat to win statewide office since 1994, but faces long odds given the advantage that GOP candidates have in statewide elections.

On paper, the race was never supposed to be even close.

A three-term congressman and onetime punk rocker, O'Rourke was virtually unknown outside of his hometown of El Paso before challenging Cruz. The charismatic candidate's calls for bipartisan optimism and willingness to visit all 254 Texas counties — even deeply Republican areas that Democrats gave up on decades ago — made him the toast of national liberal circles.

It also sparked speculation that O'Rourke could use an upset of Cruz, or even a close loss, to run for president in 2020. And it helped him shatter Senate campaign fundraising records, including raising an astounding $38-plus million just in the three-month period from July through September.

Cruz dismisses that, saying "Texas won't be bought" and blaming the "hard left" which he says is "filled with rage" against President Donald Trump. He says there are more Republicans than Democrats in Texas, so if he can avoid conservative complacency, he'll win easily.

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