SAN ANTONIO – Former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez defeated seven-term Republican Henry Bonilla in a runoff election Tuesday, adding another Democrat to Congress.
With nearly all precincts reporting in the state’s largest district, Rodriguez had 54 percent to Bonilla’s 45 percent.
Rodriguez and Bonilla were the top vote-getters in a special election held Nov. 7, but neither got 50 percent, prompting the runoff.
“I thought it would be, in all honesty, would be a lot closer than it was in the end,” Rodriguez said at his campaign party. “I can assure you I’m going to be reaching out and working with everyone. When you get elected, you represent everyone in the district.”
Bonilla was seeking an eighth term in Washington, while Rodriguez was hoping to return after a two-year absence. He served from 1997-2005 in another district but was ousted in the March 2004 Democratic primary by Henry Cuellar, of Laredo. Bonilla’s conservative stance on issues such as immigration had over the years eroded his Hispanic support. A 2003 redistricting plan engineered by former House Majority Leader Tom Delay sought to minimize the problem by cutting the number of Hispanic precincts in the district. However, the Supreme Court ruled last summer that the plan unconstitutionally diluted minority votes. A panel of federal judges redrew the district in August.
In its current form, the district – the largest in Texas – stretches from San Antonio to the Mexico border and out to far west Texas. Sixty-one percent of the district’s voting age population is Hispanic, compared with 51 percent in 2004.
The district’s demographics ended up “shellacking Bonilla in the runoff,” said Andy Hernandez, a political scientist at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “From a policy point of view, Bonilla was out of step with the Hispanic community. And politically, any time you cut people out of the district, they are going to have second thoughts about why they voted for you in the first place.”
Bonilla blamed his loss on the Supreme Court ruling, telling supporters, “We just couldn’t score again and again.”
Rodriguez, Bonilla and six others ran in a free-for-all 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.