SAN ANTONIO – After several ballot recounts and legal appeals, U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (search) has conceded defeat in his fight alleging vote fraud in March's District 28 Democratic primary.
Laredo lawyer Henry Cuellar (search) ends up beating Rodriguez by 58 votes out of nearly 50,000 cast in a contest marked by barrages of bitter accusations flying in both directions.
Rodriguez threw in the towel late Wednesday after the Texas Supreme Court again rejected his request that it hear his appeal from a lower court. Just as it did last week, the state's highest court said it has no jurisdiction over election cases.
The congressman had said he was thinking about moving his battle to federal court, but eventually he decided to surrender and start looking ahead.
"I don't intend to pursue any further legal action on the 2004 election," he said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "Instead I will focus on electing Sen. (John) Kerry as president and working toward my own 2006 congressional election.
"This appeal process was serious business to ensure the integrity of the election process and to make sure the person with the most legal votes actually won," Rodriguez said. "In the end, that did not happen."
Cuellar, a former Texas secretary of state under GOP Gov. Rick Perry, will meet Republican Jim Hopson in the November general election.
Rodriguez led by 145 votes immediately after the March 9 primary.
But Cuellar took the lead in a recount after more than 200 previously untallied ballots were discovered in Webb County, where he lives, and neighboring Zapata County.
Rodriguez sued in April, alleging irregularities in the "casting, counting and recounting" of ballots. He later amended the suit, claiming some voters didn't live in the district.
Cuellar successfully challenged the amended lawsuit, saying it raised new claims after the filing deadline.
But a panel of the 4th Court of Appeals in San Antonio later ruled 2-1 that Rodriguez had the right to question the legality of the votes.
However, a 5-2 vote in July by the full appeals court said Rodriguez was trying to bring a different allegation to trial. That decision came along party lines, with the Republican majority ruling against Rodriguez.
The two former friends battled each other because of a new, Republican congressional map.
Cuellar, 48, had planned to run again against Rep. Henry Bonilla, who narrowly beat him in District 23 in 2002, but last year's GOP-led redistricting made Bonilla's district more solidly Republican by including voters in San Antonio's well-to-do northern suburbs.
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.
The four-term congressman was chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. During his tenure, he said he secured money for higher education, veterans health and public transit programs for his district, and funds for a large jail in Pearsall.