EL PASO, TEXAS – The Texas 16th Congressional District Democratic primary was touted as the most important election to take place along the U.S.-Mexico border and in a nail biter Tuesday, challenger Beto O'Rourke defeated 16-year incumbent Sylvestre Reyes.
The announcement wasn't made until 11:35 p.m. local time, well after the 191 precincts closed at 7 p.m.
O'Rourke, 39, a former El Paso city councilor, won by a narrow margin of 50.47 percent with 23,248 votes to Reyes's 44.35 percent and 20,427, barely avoiding the need for a run-off.
"We worked really hard, I've been knocking on doors every day for nine months and it paid off," O'Rourke said.
With a slight physical resemblance to Robert F. Kennedy and the same energetic, rolled-up-sleeves approach to campaigning, O'Rourke said his campaign was based on what the voters in his district wanted most.
The importance to the border region in this contest was steeped in O'Rourke's platform of exploring methods to expedite the arduous journey across the border, especially for commercial traffic which has a profound impact on the El Paso economy. O'Rourke said he would like to see a new bridge constructed linking El Paso to Ciudad Juarez to further improve both local economies.
"We have a 10 percent unemployment rate in El Paso, that's more than 30,000 people not working," he said.
O'Rourke's reform platform also addressed the needs of veteran healthcare, especially with El Paso being the home of the massive Ft. Bliss Army Base.
"The VA here is among the worst in the country," he said. "Vets can't get seen in a timely fashion for healthcare and that's terrible."
Arguably his most controversial position has been the support for the legalization of marijuana as a way to stem the violence in Ciudad Juárez, the sister city of El Paso. He said that, while will not ignore this issue, veteran affairs and the local economy will be taking precedence in his bid for the November election.
By 12:30 a.m., Wednesday, O'Rourke, who was celebrating with his family and supporters at a downtown El Paso restaurant had yet to hear from Reyes. In the background the chant of "Beto! Beto! Beto!" set the backdrop for congratulatory calls from supporters.
Reyes was endorsed in this race by President Barack Obama.
Winning the Republican primary was Barbara Carrasco who will face O'Rourke in November for Reyes's seat.
Joseph J. Kolb is a freelance reporter in Gallup, N.M.