Texas elections shaping up as high-stakes battle

The career of the first Republican Texas House speaker in modern times is on the line. So are the political futures of Barack Obama's old classmate, a former Democratic gubernatorial contender and three long-serving Republicans in surprisingly tight races.

It may not have the pizzazz of a presidential contest, but the battle over the Texas Legislature has produced unusually high interest, buckets of special interest money and a frenzied partisan showdown across the state.

After all, the Legislature will soon have to redraw boundary lines for itself and the Texans in Congress.

Jim Henson's director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. He says that state lawmakers in Texas now are "swimming in some pretty strong currents." He says that's "making the political class very nervous," and makes it harder to predict outcomes in November.

All 150 members of the state House are up for re-election this year. Sixteen of 31 state Senate seats also are on the ballot, 7 of them contested. Barring an upset of epic proportions, Republicans won't lose their majority in the Senate. But Democrats are running competitive races for three Senate seats and could make their first net gain in that chamber in a decade.

There's also a chance the Democrats could win back the House this year - and oust powerful Republican Speaker Tom Craddick.

Partisan shifts have been rare in the Texas Legislature. When Craddick became speaker after the 2002 elections, it was the first party-switch at the helm of the House since the Civil War era. But the Democrats have whittled away at the once solid Republican House majority, which has gone from 88-62 in 2003 to 79-71 today. A five-seat swing could put the Democrats back on top.

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