Bonilla Fenced In
Wed December 13, 2006 11:29 am

Thanks to my intern, Will Krueger, for finding this observation by the National Journal's Charles Mahtesian, who is the editor of the Almanac of American Politics:

"Take a look at these remarkable numbers in Maverick County. Bonilla won it with 59% in 2004, even as Kerry was carrying the county; Bonilla lost it 86-14% tonight. Maverick County is a border county and home to Eagle Pass, where the border fence issue was huge. Bonilla's vote in favor of a fence made an enormous difference here.Talk about a mayor who knows his town. In a September news story about the fence issue, here's a quote by Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, 'It's kind of hard to support someone who wants to build a fence,' said Foster, who's also president of the Texas Border Coalition, a group of city and county officials. 'I'd say 95 percent of Maverick County agrees with me.' Turns out the guy was off by 9 points."

One of the problems Bonilla had as an Hispanic Republican is that he compiled a voting record that could not stand scrutiny in a hotly contested election. No doubt he was under pressure from the leadership to toe the party line even when it exposed him to attack, as has been the case with Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives. In the past, this would not have mattered, but in the present political climate, when Democrats are more motivated than Republicans and had enough money, national-class talent, and ammunition to use against Bonilla, and the smarts to marshall their assets effectively, the circumstances produced a near-rout.

Bonilla may have stayed at the party too long. He has always wanted to move up to the Senate, and it seemed a possibility four years ago when Phil Gramm announced that he would not seek reelection. But Gramm and Rick Perry could not agree on a scenario that would have led to Gramm's early resignation and Bonilla's appointment, and the moment passed. Since then, Bonilla has had a run of bad luck: the U.S. Supreme Court said that his safe district violated the Voting Rights Act last spring--the only district on Tom DeLay's map that didn't pass muster--and a three-judge panel drew him a 61% Hispanic district in which he had no long-term (and, as it turned out, no short-term) future. I saw him at an immigration panel in Laredo last summer, and, while he didn't say much, when he did speak, it was to echo other Republicans who said that border security was necessary to prevent crime and terrorism. As an Hispanic, he might have been able to have some influence with his colleagues on the issue, but he had become just a go along to get along guy. Had Bonilla won, I doubt that he would have sought reelection as a member of the minority party.

Instead, the race sent shock waves through the Republican party. As Jaime Castillo wrote in the San Antonio Express-News, Ciro Rodriguez was "known more for being a good man than a good campaigner." Only true believers thought he could win. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee came down to San Antonio and ran the kind of race Democrats should have been running in Hispanic areas for years, one that was not just party-loyalty oriented but also message-oriented. This race should really worry Republicans. Under Rahm Emmanuel, the DCCC has become at least the equal of the machine Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman put together. They have talent, and with their new majority status, they will have money. They know how to win elections. Meanwhile, Mehlman is gone, Rove has lost his glitter, and the Republican apparatus is in disarray, with rival factions within the party more absorbed with casting blame on each other than on rebuilding. All of this is dwarfed by the problems of their president. The Rs are now in the position that the Ds were in for so many years, both nationally and in Texas: waiting for the other side to err.

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