Rodriguez Falls Behind

Recount Will End on Thursday

Posted March 30, 2004 at 6:44pm

Former Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar has surged ahead of Rep. Ciro Rodriguez in the ongoing recount in the Lone State State’s 28th district Democratic primary.

Cuellar now holds a lead of either 20 or 30 votes (reports conflicted at press time).

Webb County, Cuellar’s home base, was being counted Tuesday night but, if anything, was expected to increase his lead.

Four other counties will retabulate today and Thursday.

The reversal of fortune came Tuesday morning when election officials found 304 uncounted ballots in Zapata County; Cuellar’s margin in that county more than offset his original 145-vote deficit in the March 9 primary.

“The campaign’s original observation that there were some irregularities in the count have rung true,” said Cuellar consultant Bob Doyle. “If things continue to go the way they have, we will probably have a new Congressman by the end of the week.”

Rodriguez campaign manager John Puder had a far different analysis.

“This doesn’t pass the smell test,” he said. “Without a doubt there is something terribly wrong.”

The Rodriguez campaign is expected to bring a lawsuit challenging the results of the recount in Zapata County.

Puder said the Rodriguez lawyers were “developing a legal strategy” late Tuesday night. Cuellar carried Zapata with 73 percent on primary day.

Both Bexar, which contains the city of San Antonio, and Hays counties are expected to be counted tomorrow; Comal and Guadalupe counties will be counted Thursday, at which point a final winner will be declared.

Much of Cuellar’s initial decision to call for a recount came from alleged ballot-by-mail irregularities in Bexar County, where 41 dead people requested a ballot.

As a result, despite the fact that Bexar is Rodriguez’s base, Cuellar supporters privately expressed confidence that their candidate’s current lead will hold.

Rodriguez did carry Bexar by more than 8,000 votes in the primary contest.

Cuellar is no stranger to close Congressional elections with Bexar County as the linchpin.

In 2002, he challenged Rep. Henry Bonilla (R) in the 23rd district, which at the time included much of Cuellar’s Laredo base in Webb.

He carried Webb by more than 26,000 votes and led Bonilla by 15,000 votes on election night. But Bexar County did not report its results until the following night; it went overwhelmingly for Bonilla, and in the end he defeated Cuellar by more than 6,000 votes.

In the event Rodriguez winds up on the losing end of the race against Cuellar, he will be the second Texas Democratic incumbent to fall to defeat this year.

Rep. Chris Bell was soundly defeated in the Houston-based 9th district by former Houston Justice of the Peace Al Green after Republican redistricters adding a large number of black voters to the seat. Green is black.

A number of other Texas Democrats are in jeopardy this fall under the new Congressional map, which Republicans pushed through the state legislature after three special sessions.

Reps. Martin Frost and Charlie Stenholm will face off against Republican incumbents in districts that favor the GOP.

Reps. Max Sandlin, Nick Lampson and Chet Edwards are all facing very serious challenges in districts that take in significant new territory and tilt toward Republicans.

The GOP-backed plan was widely credited with the retirement of Rep. Jim Turner (D), who saw his 2nd district carved up among six other seats, and the party switch of Rep. Ralph Hall (R) just prior to the state’s filing deadline.