Hutchison concedes as Perry takes lead in Texas GOP primary

AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Rick Perry jumped to a strong but inconclusive lead over U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in Tuesday's Republican primary, prompting Hutchison to concede the GOP nomination.

With 44 percent of the state's 8,236 precincts reporting, Perry had 51 percent, compared to 31 percent for Hutchison, Perry’s leading challenger in the three-way fight for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Wharton businesswoman Debra Medina, whose candidacy paralleled many of themes waged by the Tea Party movement, trailed with 18 percent of the vote.

Just before 9:30 p.m., Hutchison conceded the race to Perry and promised to work with him for Texas interests.

Among Democrats, former Houston mayor Bill White won an overwhelming victory in the seven-way race for the party’s nomination to oppose the GOP victor in the Nov. 2 general election, according to The Associated Press. White had 77.9 percent of the vote in early returns, while his most visible opponent, Houston hair care magnate Farouk Shami, had 10.5 percent.

Even before the polls closed, supporters of the gubernatorial candidates and contenders in other races were gathering at "watch parties" across the state to await the returns.

Election forecasters and political analysts were calling for a large turnout, in part because of the intensity of the governor's race and robust early voting that reflected increases over the last governor's race in 2006. The weather was also cooperating as voters went to the polls under sunny skies in most parts of the state.

The marquee race between Perry and Hutchison, which started developing more than a year ago, was not only the main event in Texas but is also one of the top inner-party battles nationwide. "This is one of the most closely watched primaries in the country partly because we've rarely seen an incumbent governor and an incumbent senator going head to head in the primary," said Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports, a national polling firm that has followed the Texas governor's race.

The primaries were also expected to reflect the depth of voter anger and anti-incumbency sentiments in an election season that has seen many voters become victim to fallout from the national recession. Medina's surprise emergence from obscurity after two debate performances in part reflected voters' rebellious mood, most notably exemplified by the rise of the Tea Party movement over the past year.

White, who served as three-term mayor of Houston, became the favorite of the Democratic Party establishment after abandoning a U.S. Senate campaign and switching to the governor's race, partly at the urging of dropout candidate Tom Schieffer of Fort Worth. Schieffer, who served as a U.S. ambassador in the Bush administration, was the first high-profile candidate to enter the Democratic gubernatorial contest but bowed out to support White after he was unable to muster a competitive following.

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