Democrats put an exclamation point on their political year, capturing a House seat in Texas as former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez ousted seven-term GOP incumbent Henry Bonilla in a runoff.
"In terms of congressional races, obviously it has been a very bad year and this is a continuation of it," Republican consultant Reggie Bashur said Wednesday from Texas. "A lot of voters were persuaded by arguments that Congress was going Democrat and it would be wise to elect a Democrat to join the majority."
Democrats seized control of the House in the midterm elections last month and padded their majority on Tuesday with Rodriguez’s 9-percentage-point win. When the new Congress convenes on Jan. 4, Democrats will hold 233 House seats and Republicans’ 202.
In the final tally, Democrats won 29 GOP-held seats. As a reward for his win, Rodriguez was named to a coveted spot on the Appropriations Committee, where Bonilla served as a subcommittee chairman.
In 2004, Bonilla cruised to victory with 69 percent of the vote over a lesser-known Democrat, but that win came in a district drawn to ensure the Republican’s win — with former Republican Rep. Tom DeLay leading the way in remapping Texas.
The Supreme Court ruled in June that a 2003 reconfiguration of Bonilla’s district was unconstitutional because it diluted minority votes, and a three-judge panel redrew the district in August to restore Hispanics that had been shunted into another district.
The new district stretches from San Antonio south to the Mexican border and almost to El Paso in the west.
Bonilla blamed the Supreme Court ruling for his loss Tuesday. Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean hailed it.
"With the help of Texas Democrats, voters won a hard-fought victory in the courthouse and the ballot box," Dean said in a statement. "Democrats successfully fought back Republican partisan redistricting attempts which disenfranchised Hispanic voters."
Rodriguez and Bonilla faced six candidates in a special election Nov. 7. The goal of the six Democrats was to keep Bonilla below 50 percent and force him into a runoff. It worked, with Rodriguez in second place.
Rodriguez returns to Congress after a two-year absence. He served from 1997-2005 in another district, but was ousted in the March 2004 Democratic primary by Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar.
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