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Cuellar Headed to Victory Over Rep. Rodriguez

Former Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar appeared to be headed to a Democratic primary victory over 28th District Rep. Ciro Rodriguez Wednesday even as the Congressman’s campaign plotted a legal challenge to contest the results.

After several days of recounts, Cuellar’s margin grew to 200 votes Wednesday afternoon with just three counties remaining to be retabulated.

He picked up 180 votes in Zapata County, 177 votes in Webb County, which includes his political base of Laredo, and 3 votes in Bexar County that encompasses Rodriguez’s home in San Antonio.

Hayes, Comal and Guadalupe — all sparsely populated counties north of San Antonio —will be counted in the next 24 hours and are not expected to significantly affect the outcome.

“We will have a new Democratic nominee,” predicted Cuellar campaign spokesman Colin Strother. He added that he fully expected Cuellar to declare victory as soon as the recount ends.

Rodriguez consultant John Puder retorted that the campaign would file to contest the election as soon as the manual recount was concluded to look at alleged voting irregularities in several counties.

“This makes LBJ’s Box 13 look like kid’s play,” he added, referring to the controversial discovery of a previously uncounted group of ballots that gave Lyndon Johnson a narrow victory over Coke Stevenson in the 1948 Texas Democratic Senate primary.

Strother shot back that the legal challenges by Rodriguez are nothing more than the “last kick of a drowning man.”

It remains unclear how the Rodriguez camp will approach its election challenge and Puder said the strategy would be cemented in the next few days.

At the center of this growing firestorm are the 481 votes in Zapata and Webb counties, which election officials maintain had somehow been missed in the original count and canvassing that followed.

All of the votes were discovered during manual recounts Tuesday and went overwhelmingly to Cuellar.

Of the 304 new votes in Zapata County, 237 were for Cuellar; in Webb County all 177 new votes went to Cuellar.

That math “defies explanation,” according to Puder.

The overseer of the Zapata County results said the discrepancy in votes was the result of a mechanical error with a vote counting machine that did not properly record a number of paper ballots.

In Webb County, there appeared to be 115 more votes counted than there were ballots cast. No immediate explanation was put forward for the mismatch.

Strother said that under Texas law there is no allotment for a “re-recount,” so the current vote total in Webb County will stand.

Cuellar’s apparent come-from-behind victory marks the second time in as many cycles that he has been involved in a race that has extended beyond the typical campaign season.

In 2002, he challenged Rep. Henry Bonilla (R) in the 23rd district, which at the time included much of 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.

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