Ciro Rodriguez to challenge Henry Bonilla in CD23

SAEN, Greg Jefferson:

Former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez stopped playing coy Wednesday night and said he's in the race for U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla's post.

Last week, federal judges redrew the boundaries for Congressional District 23, pulling in more Bexar County voters — many of them Democrats — and forcing a Nov. 7 open election for the seat. That has moved many ambitious Democrats to look anew at the district, which stretches from San Antonio nearly to El Paso.

But Rodriguez on Wednesday escaped what could have been a strong challenge from a fellow Democrat. Former mayoral candidate and former City Councilman Julián Castro said he'd opted not to vie for the office.

In the meantime, Rodriguez — who's midway through a tour of the far-flung district — said he'll formally announce his candidacy Tuesday in San Antonio.

Monday night, he told several dozen supporters at his West Harding Boulevard headquarters that he'd take the following week to decide whether to run.

He said he'll campaign on beefing up education, infrastructure and access to health care, as well as Bonilla's voting record.

Rick Bolanos is also in the race, but Ciro Rodriguez is clearly the main Bonilla challenger.

Of the voting age population, 33.7% are Anglo, 3.3% black, 61.2% Hispanic, and 2% other. In 2002, the statewide composite index showed the district to be 49.3% Republican, and in 2004, the number rose to 53.7% Republican. Two tweakers to those numbers: in 2002, Tony Sanchez ran for governor, while in 2004 George W. Bush did surprisingly well among Hispanics in Texas.

As I predicted, the court started from scratch in drawing its own plan. In doing so, they certainly did Republicans no favors. Bonilla's 2002 district -- in which now-CD28 Congressman Cuellar nearly beat Bonilla -- was arguably a better district for Bonilla than his new one. In the 2002 election, Bonilla beat Cuellar 51.5% to 47.2%. However, the statewide composite for his 2002 district was 47.5% in 2002 and 56.4% in 2004. As Charles Kuffner has shown, Bonilla would have been likely to defeat Cuellar by an increased margin if the districts had remained unchanged in 2004.

Let's look at money. As of June 30th, Henry Bonilla had $2.2M on in cash on hand. Ciro Rodriguez had $0.05M ($50K). Rick Bolanos had even less. While Rodriguez might get help from the DCCC, he has a short time to raise money while trying to campaign at the same time. Unless the DCCC gets numbers showing Bonilla looking weak, they probably won't have the money to target Bonilla.

Rodriguez's base is on the south side of San Antonio just added to the district, but Bonilla happens to have his own strengths there as well. Not only is Bonilla a former San Antonio news broadcaster, but Bonilla grew up in the new parts of district and went to high school there. Rodriguez has no name ID outside of Bexar County, and Rodriguez's name ID is probably also very low in the northwest Bexar County part of the district that Bonilla has represented for years.

Rodriguez has a pretty liberal voting record, while Bonilla's definitely leans right. As for overall campaigning strength, Rodriguez managed to lose twice to Cuellar in CD28 Dem primaries despite the power of incumbency. He will be without those powers of incumbency in this election.

So it appears that Bonilla should have a pretty good shot at re-election. He starts out way ahead in both money and name ID, and is in a unique position to dig into Rodriguez's base. There's the possibility that multiple Democratic candidates might force a run-off (at least, my understanding is that the redistricting-affected districts are operating Louisiana style), and in run-offs, anything can happen. At Paul Burka's blog, I estimated Bonilla's chances of re-election at 70%, but I think I probably understated them. They are probably closer to 75%. [Burka put them at 60%.] I would put them even higher except for the possibility of a wind at the Democrats' backs this election cycle.

Bonilla is probably strong enough to carry this district through the next few cycles, if he is willing to face a rough campaign every two years. The bigger question is what happens when Bonilla retires or runs for higher office. If it's before the 2012 cycle, then Republicans won't be able to shore up Bonilla's district in redistricting. If they're smart, state Republican leaders will start planning who will run in this seat in the future. If George Antuna can win his seat in the legislature, he'd appear to be an attractive possible choice. And perhaps Bonilla will help Antuna win, now that their districts overlap.

Posted by Evan @ 08/10/06 05:49 AM


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