Feb. 14, 2016
Edward A. Ornelas/San Antonio Express-News/ZUMApress.com
Former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (above) and state Rep. Pete Gallego are enmeshed in a runoff for the Democratic nomination for the 23rd district.

Democrats Make Last Stand in Texas Runoffs

Former Representative Is Outspent in 23rd District Race, but That May Not Matter Much

There is no better illustration of former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez’ campaign to return to Congress than his Federal Election Commission report.

The Texas Democrat raised just $81,000 in the first six months of the year, yet he finished his May 29 primary in first place, a few points shy of winning the contest outright against the better-funded, establishment-backed state Rep. Pete Gallego, who raised $551,000 during the same period. Rodriguez has been similarly overmatched in the runoff campaign, but Gallego supporters concede it might not matter.

“We’ve all learned our lesson of discounting the intrinsic appeal of Ciro Rodriguez,” said Democratic consultant Matt Angle, a backer of Gallego.

The situation has put state and national Democrats in a tough spot. In Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C., they like Rodriguez personally and appreciate his work ethic. But his inability to build a strong campaign infrastructure and raise money is a point of recurring frustration for Democrats who desperately want to take the 23rd district.

Many believe that Rodriguez could win the July 31 runoff. But these same Democrats fear he would falter in the general election against Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco (R) or force the national party to invest heavily to flip the seat, draining coffers that could be spent elsewhere.

Gallego also has faced criticism about his campaign’s execution.

On the surface, he was the Democratic candidate with the polished, professional campaign, strong fundraising and high-profile consultants. That’s why his primary loss was initially something of a head scratcher to those who followed the race.

But in recent weeks, Democrats have begun to criticize how his campaign is being run.

“There hasn’t been much of one,” said Colin Strother, an unaffiliated Texas-based consultant. “There’s been a lot of flash but not a lot of substance.”

Other Democrats have echoed Strother’s comments privately.

Structurally, one of Gallego’s biggest problems is that his pollster was Alan Secrest. Just a few weeks after the May 29 primary, Secrest announced that he was going out of business.

Strategically, Gallego’s problems could stem from the fact that he hails from one of the most remote parts of the 23rd district, an enormous sprawl of a seat that stretches from San Antonio to El Paso. In the primary, Gallego lost to Rodriguez in the San Antonio portion of the district, which is the seat’s population center.

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