Charles Cook, the publisher of a widely read (in Washington) political newsletter, has changed his rating of the congressional race for Tx-23 from “likely Democratic” to “leans Democratic.” This is the race between incumbent Democrat Ciro Rodriguez and Republican challenger Quico Canseco. The district includes the northwest, west, and southwest portions of Bexar County and then runs roughly between the Rio Grande and I-10 all the way into east El Paso County. Rodriguez is neither a strong candidate or a strong congressman, but this ought to be a safe Democratic seat. In the Tom DeLay-inspired mid-census redistricting of 2003, the Republicans were sufficiently worried about Henry Bonilla’s ability to hold the seat that they split Webb County (Laredo) in half. In 2006, the Supreme Court struck this down as a dilution of minority voting strength. A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit redrew the lines to put Webb County back together and giving Rodriguez more of San Antonio. A special election was held on the same day as the 2006 general election, and Bonilla led Rodriguez by 48.60% to Rodriguez’s 19.86%. But Republican voters were devastated by the loss of both houses of Congress, and by various other Republican foibles, and Rodriguez won the runoff handily, with the help of a visit by Bill Clinton to San Antonio. In 2008, Lyle Larsen carried the Republican banner against Rodriguez. This was another bad year for Republicans, and Rodriguez won comfortably, by some 134,000 votes. Granted, a lot has changed since 2008, but I still don’t see why Cook changed his assessment of the race. Larsen, a former Bexar County commissioner who ran successfully for the Texas House seat being vacated by Frank Corte, carried only three counties against Rodriguez — Edwards (Rocksprings), Sutton (Sonora), and Medina (Hondo). The first two are sparsely populated. Medina is becoming a bedroom community for San Antonio, and Larsen carried it by 3,000 votes. Rodriguez carried all the other counties in the district, and there are a bunch of them. He won Maverick County (Eagle Pass) by 7,200 votes (an 8 to 1 rout), Val Verde County (Del Rio), by 4,200 votes, El Paso County by 2,900 votes, Dimmit County (Carrizo Springs) by 2,300 votes, Zavala County (Crystal City) by 3,000 votes, and Presidio County (Marfa/Presidio) by 1,000 votes. Rodriguez only carried his home county, Bexar, by 12,000 votes, however. R’s will be more motivated this year, and Larsen might pick up some Democratic voters in San Antonio who don’t like Rodriguez. Still, the numbers look overwhelming to me. There just aren’t any GOP votes to speak of west of Hondo. I think the call should still be “Likely Democratic.”
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