Trailing by less than 150 votes in his primary challenge to Democratic Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, former Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar has initiated recount proceedings in the 28th district.
“Ciro’s received a stay of execution but not a pardon,” said Cuellar spokesman Colin Strother, pointing out that just a .05 percent shift in the overall vote would deliver a victory to Cuellar.
The Cuellar campaign filed the petition to the state Democratic Party asking for a manual recount in each of the district’s 11 counties on Monday, just hours before the deadline to make such requests.
That recount is expected to begin Thursday and could last as long as two weeks, as no counties are expected to count their ballots simultaneously.
Rodriguez campaign manager John Puder acknowledged that his candidate won by a close margin but cast doubt on the possibility that a recount would overturn the election result.
“Recounts do not typically move numbers in any significant direction,” said Puder, predicting that the final result will differ by no more than “10 or 20” votes from where it stands now.
The final vote count in the March 9 primary was 24,363 votes for Rodriguez to 24,218 votes for Cuellar.
Cuellar’s decision to challenge the initial count is likely to further the bad blood between the two men, which began in the primary.
Rodriguez’s camp highlighted Cuellar’s ties to Republicans, especially his appointment as secretary of state by Gov. Rick Perry (R) in 2001.
Not to be outdone, Cuellar cast Rodriguez as an absentee Member, who missed key votes and brought little pork back to the district.
The two men have not spoken since the primary campaign concluded.
Bob Doyle, a Cuellar consultant, said his candidate’s decision was not based on personal animosity.
“We want to get to the truth,” he said.
The recount “reflects [Cuellar’s] commitment to the race and the people who support him,” Doyle added.
Cuellar’s campaign is focusing its efforts on mail ballot applications in Bexar and Comal counties.
Bexar County, which contains the city of San Antonio, is Rodriguez’s base in the district. He carried it by more than 8,000 votes and received nearly half of all his districtwide support in the county.
Strother said the Cuellar campaign has information that 41 dead people requested a ballot by mail in Bexar County. He added that Bexar has not purged its voter rolls in more than 18 months.
North of San Antonio in Comal County, Strother said the district attorney is looking into alleged improprieties in the vote-by-mail program.
Rodriguez won Comal by 410 votes.
Early voting by mail is widely used in Texas. Fifty-four percent of the 48,581 votes cast in the 28th district primary were done so in the early voting period.
This is the second time in as many cycles that Cuellar has made a near-miss bid for Congress.
In 2002, he challenged Rep. Henry Bonilla (R) in the 23rd district, which at the time included much of Cuellar’s Laredo base in Webb County.
He carried Webb by more than 26,000 votes and led Bonilla by 15,000 votes on election night.
But Bexar County did not report its results until the following night; it went overwhelmingly for Bonilla, and in the end he defeated Cuellar by more than 6,000 votes.
In recent history, recounts in House races have added or subtracted votes on the margins but rarely overturned a result.
Colorado’s 7th district played host to the most competitive race of the 2002 cycle, as now-Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) led former state Sen. Mike Feeley (D) by 386 votes on the initial count with 2,000 provisional ballots outstanding.
After all the ballots were counted, Beauprez triumphed by 121 votes.
The previous cycle, 8th district Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) was officially declared the victor more than a month after Election Day due to an extended recount. His final margin was 160 votes.
Two attorneys, Francisco “Quico” Canseco and Jim Hopson are squaring off in an April 13 Republican runoff to determine who will be the GOP nominee in the 28th district.
Either way, the Democrat will be heavily favored — whether it’s Rodriguez or Cuellar.