Published March 11, 2004
Rep. Ciro D. Rodriguez (search) pulled out a narrow victory over a former Texas secretary of state in a hard-fought Democratic primary that featured two one-time allies battling each other because of a new, Republican congressional map.
Rodriguez was one of three Democratic incumbents to face primary challenges Tuesday as a result of the redistricting plan drawn by the GOP last year. The map forced longtime Rep. Lloyd Doggett (search) and freshman Rep. Chris Bell (search) to move into more Democratic-friendly districts.
Doggett easily won the nomination in a district that stretches from Austin to the Mexico border, but Bell was trounced by former NAACP (search) official Al Green in a Houston district.
With all precincts reporting Wednesday, Rodriguez defeated Henry Cuellar by only 126 votes out of more than 48,000 cast. Cuellar was not ready to concede, holding out the possibility of asking for a recount and raising questions about vote-counting.
"All I know is that I won this election and we're moving forward," Rodriguez said Wednesday at his campaign headquarters in San Antonio. "We have a good stretch until November."
Rodriguez' opponent in November will be determined by an April 13 runoff election between Seguin lawyer Jim Hopson and Francisco Canseco.
Cuellar said the ballot problems occurred in Bexar County, where machinery troubles delayed the results for more than an hour Tuesday night. Rodriguez, from San Antonio, captured 80 percent of the Bexar County vote.
"I think anybody would agree we should always eliminate any doubts after every election," Cuellar said. "If there's an election and there's a doubt as to whether all the votes were properly counted or accurately counted, then I don't think that's good for our democracy or for our electoral process."
The Rodriguez-Cuellar race drew interest in part because of the candidates' long political ties.
Rodriguez, 57, said repeatedly that he felt betrayed by Cuellar's candidacy. He said he deserved more respect after providing financial and campaign help to Cuellar in 2002, when Cuellar nearly defeated Rep. Henry Bonilla in District 23.
Cuellar had planned to run again this year against Bonilla, also of San Antonio, but the redistricting made Bonilla's district more solidly Republican by including voters in San Antonio's well-to-do northern suburbs.
Republicans hope the new map will help them win at least 22 of Texas' 32 congressional seats, now split evenly between the parties. U.S. House Republican Leader Tom DeLay of Texas played a major role in the redistricting plan, and Democratic legislators twice fled the state to protest GOP effort.