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In Texas governor's race, Greg Abbott projected to win big over Wendy Davis

HOUSTON -- Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, will be the state's next governor after cruising to a comfortable win over Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis, NBC News projects.

With 43% of total votes counted, Abbott, the frontrunner throughout the race, led Davis 58% to 41%.

"The genius and the beauty of our democracy is that ultimately the power rests with the people," Davis said in a tearful concession speech late Tuesday. "Even when the results don't go the way we want them to, we celebrate the fact that we live in a country in which the people get to decide their elected leaders. And tonight, the people of Texas have spoken."

Though long anticipated, the loss marked a disappointing end to the Davis campaign, which had once seemed to have a chance of at least making the race close. And it represents a setback for Democratic hopes of finally making the largest and most important red state on the map competitive, though that effort is likely to continue.

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Davis gained nationwide attention, and energized the long dormant state Democratic party, after she led a dramatic June 2013 filibuster that temporarily blocked a strict Republican-backed abortion bill. Her up-by-the-bootstraps personal story -- she was a single mother as a teen before graduating from Harvard Law School -- seemed likely to resonate with middle class voters. Meanwhile, national Democrats invested unprecedented resources in registering and mobilizing new voters, many of them minorities, in an effort to capitalize on Texas's soaring Latino population. 

But Davis's performances on the stump often came off as flat and uninspiring, and her campaign struggled to respond to charges that she had exaggerated aspects of her personal story. A controversial TV ad released by her campaign in the race's waning days, which attacked Abbott, who is disabled after an accident, for siding against other accident victims, offended even some liberals.

Abbott ran a cautious campaign, in which he largely avoided laying out specific governing plans. His ads touted his strength and resilience in coming back from the accident that left him in a wheelchair at 24.

But there is little doubt that he'll govern as a staunch conservative, continuing the direction that the current governor, Rick Perry, has taken the state, or perhaps tacking even further to the right. That's likely to be bad news for those Texans left out of the state's economic miracle, including the over 1 million people who remain without health insurance thanks to Perry's decision  to reject the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.

RELATED: After push to mobilize new voters, turnout surges in Texas

Voting in Texas was marred by problems at polling places, especially in the morning, particularly in Harris County, the state's largest county. And a significant number of voters were kept from the polls by the state's strict voter ID law, which was in effect for the first time in a major election.

Abbott's office aggressively defended the law in court, and he frequently touted his support for it on the campaign trail. Davis opposed the law.