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Democrat takes Texas House seat in runoff

The GOP incumbent was hurt by flagging Latino support.

December 13, 2006|Lianne Hart | Times Staff Writer

HOUSTON — Former Democratic congressman Ciro Rodriguez soundly defeated seven-term Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla on Tuesday in an unusual runoff to decide one of the nation's last unresolved House races.

With nearly all of the precincts reporting, Rodriguez led Bonilla, 54% to 45%.

Bonilla "has already conceded the race and called former congressman Rodriguez and indicated he would do anything he can do to help in the transition," Bonilla spokesman Phil Ricks said.

On Nov. 7, Bonilla won 49% of the vote, just shy of the majority he needed to avoid a runoff. Rodriguez was second, with 20%.

Bonilla's conservative stands on issues such as immigration had eroded his Latino support over the years. A 2003 redistricting plan engineered by then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay cut the number of Latino precincts in the district, which would have minimized the problem.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 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 Mexican border and out to far West Texas. Sixty-one percent of the district's voting-age population is Latino, compared with 51% 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."

lianne.hart@latimes.com

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