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March 11, 2004

Rodriguez squeaker, Bell defeat shock House leadership

By Jim Dallas

The Hill reports that Pelosi is upset that incumbents Ciro Rodriguez and Chris Bell had such weak ground operations, and that Al Green's victory may be causing friction between black and Anglo Democrats on Capitol Hill.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) call for a “mandatory meeting” on the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote (GOTV) plan sowed confusion among lawmakers at yesterday’s caucus meeting.

Several lawmakers said they felt Pelosi was asking the caucus to iron out hard feelings about the contentious primary victory of African-American attorney Al Green over Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas), whose old district was bisected by GOP cartographers.

Green’s endorsement by a handful of Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members angered many of Bell’s colleagues, creating friction within the Texas delegation and the caucus at large.

Most lawmakers and aides at yesterday’s caucus agreed that Pelosi’s call for a mandatory meeting was related to Bell’s loss as well as a razor-thin victory by Rep. Ciro Rodriguez over a primary opponent. However, a Pelosi aide denied that the two subjects were related.

Some lawmakers and aides felt that Pelosi’s mandatory meeting would also include an airing of opinions about the CBC’s support for Green over an incumbent.

“Pelosi told us we’ll have to iron out our differences on Bell and Green,” said a member of the CBC. “She said it would be mandatory.”

“It’s probably a good idea to have this conversation. There are some hard feelings out there,” the lawmaker added.

Bell told the Hill, “It will be cause for a lot of conversation, and it should be.” He added that he was disappointed that the contest turned on race: “Making this campaign racially divisive worked,” he said.

“The GOTV stuff and Bell’s loss were related. She said it right in the same breath,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), a member of the CBC, noted.

But Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), a member of Pelosi’s leadership team, disputed that the subject of Bell’s loss, CBC support for Green and the mandatory meeting were at all linked. Clyburn attempted to correct Thompson’s assertion that the subjects were intertwined.

“Those had nothing to do with one another,” said Clyburn.

The confusion may stem from the speaking order in caucus, as Pelosi spoke after Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) announced the results of Tuesday’s primary, when many lawmakers learned for the first time that the popular Bell would not be returning next year.

“Pelosi’s point was that two incumbents did not have adequate ground operations and that we can’t have that in November,” said an aide.

Regardless of what Pelosi actually said or intended, Democrats agreed that Rodriguez’s squeaky victory and Bell’s lopsided loss should serve as a wake-up call that incumbents need to have well-oiled mobilization machines up and running by November.

“Leader Pelosi has long focused on the three pillars of this election: money, message and mobilization,” said Pelosi spokeswoman Jennifer Crider. “Democrats have a strong message that resonates with middle-class America. We’ll have the money we need, and now we’re focusing on mobilization.”

Posted by Jim Dallas at March 11, 2004 03:04 PM | TrackBack


Yeah, someone screwed up with the Rodriguez campaign. San Antonio turnout was pathetic while Laredo turnout was huge. That's just irresponsible. Lloyd Doggett was the smart one of the bunch. He had his surrogates work their butts off to get out the vote in Austin for him while he went down and introduced himself tirelessly to his new constituents in south Texas. It paid off...

As for Chris Bell... well geez. He was just embarassed. It was a tough race for him but he didn't seem to take it as seriously as he needed to. I didn't follow the race nearly as much as Doggett's, but in new districts you can't take anything for granted. Lloyd Doggett practically lived in Hidalgo County for the past three months. It doesn't appear as if Bell or Rodriguez had nearly the same seriousness in getting to know their new constituents.

Posted by: Byron L at March 11, 2004 03:12 PM

I still wonder to what extent Republicans crossed over and voted in the 28th. I am sure that Ciro did a piss poor job of getting the message out that Cuellar is a closet Republican.

Concerning the 9th, Bell was really the underdog based on the demographics, and he failed to campaign like one. Hence, he lost.

The shame is not only was re-redistricting so successful for Rethuglicans by eliminating Democrats, the icing on the cake for the R's was to sow racial resentment in the Democratic ranks. It worked: the Bell /Green race was all about race. It is a shame that so many people in this country, white and black, will simply not vote for a person of a different race.

Posted by: WhoMe? at March 11, 2004 07:10 PM


I would disagree. It's only about race if you decide that it's only about race. If Lloyd Doggett would have decided that Hidalgo County wouldn't vote for a monolingual White guy from Austin, then he would have lost. He didn't. Instead, he worked his butt off in Hidalgo County, convinced Hispanics there that we are all in the same fight together, and that with his seniority and his ability, he could be a better advocate for them than one of their own.

It's really remarkable how little credit we give to minorities sometimes. I remember in 2002 people saying that Ron Kirk, a Black guy, would have trouble in the Valley because of racial antagonism. Bullshit. Kirk outpolled Tony Sanchez in Cameron, Hidalgo and El Paso counties because Ron Kirk went down to the Valley and make a case for himself. Lloyd Doggett did the same thing. The lesson of all this is to not write off people because they are of a different race. As Democrats, we are all in this together, and we all have similar values. The way to win is not to play racial politics, but to convince White, Black and Brown voters that you are the best qualified to fight for our communities, and stand up to the right-wing. That's what its all about...

Posted by: Byron L at March 12, 2004 12:00 AM

I do hope this provides a wake-up call to Ciro Rodriguez about not paying attention to Laredo and Webb County. In the past two congressional (2002 General and 2004 primary) elections, they produced high voter turnout.

According to the Texas SOS website Webb County turnout was 28.95%. Compare that to other turnout statistics.
Statewide Democratic turnout was 6.86%
Hidalgo County (McAllen) 15.64%
Travis County (Austin) 11.98%
Bexar County (San Antonio) 5.66%
Harris County (Houston) 4.04%
El Paso County (El Paso) 9.46%
Cameron County (Harlingen/Brownsville) 21.41%
2002’s General Election turnout was 41%, a lot of that can be attributed to Tony Sanchez’s run for Governor, but this primary, I don’t know of any other race in the County that would account to for the high voter turnout. Rodriguez even had the backing of local leaders from Laredo such as Mayor Betty Flores and State Sen. Judith Zaffirini.

To me, Laredo is excited at the thought of electing one of their own to Congress, even if it is Henry Cuellar. I don’t think that they would vote Republican to elect a local, but if Rodriguez hopes to remain in Washington, he needs to, like Doggett, pay some attention to the southern end of the district.

Posted by: TC at March 12, 2004 01:31 AM


I agree with your comment, "As Democrats, we are all in this together, and we all have similar values. " I also agree that the Dogget race proved this maxim correct. However, I still believe that the Bell/Green race was about race, which is a shame.

Concerning the Kirk race, I spoke with Ron on election night, and he summed it up that he got creamed in East Texas (He did not say it, but it was obvious - white good ole' boys would not vote for a black man.), which is also a horrible shame.

As an empirical matter, there are much more "cross-over" districts concerning anglo & hispanic representation as compared to anglo & black representation. (For example, El Paso is a majority hispanic district and is represented by an anglo in the State Senate, yet Austin is majority anglo and is represented by an hispanic in the State Senate) Apparently, the data suggests there is more or a rift between Anglos and Blacks than Anglos and Hispanics. It is a rift that needs to be mended.

Posted by: WhoMe? at March 12, 2004 10:02 PM
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