CD-23 Democratic Primary Runoff Preview: Ciro Rodriguez vs. Pete Gallego

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On the Democratic side, this is the race that has the biggest consequences for November, and possibly for the ability of the Blue Team to reclaim the US House of Representatives. Former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez faces off against State Representative Pete Gallego for the chance to oust incumbent Republican and special interest whore Quico Canseco this November.

The 23rd is a huge district, the 8th largest in the US (not counting at-large districts) and runs from south Bexar County all the way to El Paso. Both candidates have strong ties to the turf: Ciro previously represented the district, winning a runoff against Henry Bonilla in December 2006. He lost to Canseco in 2010. Gallego has represented HD-74 — which overlaps extensively with the Congressional district — in the Legislature for over 20 years.

Once the field settled for the race — Ciro initially was running in the 35th as our maps worked their way through various manifestations — Pete and Ciro found themselves joined by John Bustamante, son of former Congressman Albert Bustamante, who also represented the district. Gallego vastly outraised Ciro, $821K to $151K. However, Ciro came out on top in the first round with 46% to Gallego's 40%. Ciro was bolstered by strong showings in the most populous counties in the district. Additionally, he received a boost from Maverick Co., where a local endorsement from the County Judge combined with high turnout in the race to fill Pete Gallego's seat in the Legislature.

At issue in this key pick-up opportunity is Ciro's electoral history — namely his ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. First elected to CD-28 in 1997 in a special election, Ciro lost the seat in the 2004 primary to Henry Cuellar. He lost again to Cuellar in the 2006 Democratic primary (which was held in March, because that's when we usually do this sort of thing in Texas). When the US Supreme Court threw out the extant 23rd District in the summer of 2006, Ciro jumped into a jungle-style primary with incumbent Republican Henry Bonilla. Ciro made the run-off with 20% to Bonilla's 48%, and pulled off a huge upset to return to Congress. The DCCC bailed out Ciro in that race, spending heavily and sending top staff to the district. After an uneventful 2008, Ciro lost in the 2010 General to Canseco, 49% to 44%.

Should Ciro win the runoff and head to November, there are concerns that he won't be able to vanquish Quico, owing to lack of funds and an inability to move “swing” voters. Gallego has shown himself to be the stronger fundraiser, and his time in the Legislature has made many moderates and moveable voters in the vast district amenable to voting for him.

It will all come down to turnout. As the chart below shows, Ciro prevailed by winning the high-turnout counties. Gallego had some landslide wins in counties that weren't as vote heavy. There are two other races on the ballot that could have an impact on the winner of the race. The runoff for HD-117 between Tina Torres and Phillip Cortez has been hotly contested, and should have higher turnout. CD-23 overlaps with HD-117 along the western side of Bexar county. Also keep an eye out for elevated turnout in El Paso, where there's a heated runoff for County Commissioner Pct 3 between former State Rep. Chente Quintanilla and former Congressman Silvestre Reyes staffer Vincent Perez. (Go Vince!) Again, this race likely comes down to which counties have the highest turnout.

Here's a chart on how each candidate fared in the first round, by county:

Thoughts on this race or predictions? Leave 'em in the comments.


About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.


  1. Ciro!
    Stop underestimating Ciro Rodriguez.  He only lost by five points in a Republican year, that's snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?  Quico Canseco has been unresponsive to constituents in Congress.  It's not all about fundraising.  The district can definitely go Democratic in November and it is not at all certain that Gallego would do better at getting votes.  A base of people are inspired and excited to turn out by Ciro Rodriguez — not so much Gallego enthusiasm that I've read about.  

  2. to be fair
    i have nothing negative to say about pete. i think he's a great guy who trusted the wrong people to get him to the next level.

    having said that, if one has a 9 or 10 to 1 fundraising advantage in a campaign and cannot close the deal we must ask ourselves if there is a personality issue that impacts some decision-making; that would inhibit electability in November.

    no democrat has been more critical of ciro than i have, but he knows what it takes and he does that. he will be formidable in november by nature.

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