Bill White led the pack, but as expected there will be a runoff, with White facing Orlando Sanchez. Sylvester Turner finished third, which has to be a tough blow for him.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, White had 38 percent of the vote to Sanchez's 33 percent and Turner's 29 percent.
Six lesser-known candidates barely registered in the vote.
Sanchez, who nearly defeated Mayor Lee Brown two years ago by assembling a coalition of conservatives and Hispanics, was the presumed front-runner at the outset of the race. But polls showed his support slipping, with significant chunks of self-identified Republicans and Hispanics turning to White.
Initially, City Councilman Michael Berry's candidacy threatened Sanchez's support among Republicans. But Berry dropped out of the race at the last minute and endorsed Sanchez.
As Sanchez dropped in the polls, he launched an increasingly nasty attack against White. He called him a liberal -- considered a dirty word among some of the GOP voters Sanchez was struggling to hold onto; accused him of trying to block U.S. troops from voting; and linked him to unpopular Mayor Lee Brown, from whom all three candidates worked to distance themselves during the race.
White responded with a mailing showing a picture of an empty chair and listing Sanchez's poor attendance record at city budget workshops while he was on City Council, his lack of management experience and his troubled and short-lived career as a Harris County probation officer.
Sanchez quit his probation office job under threat of being fired for missing work to campaign for public office.
Exit polling conducted for the Chronicle by the University of Houston Center for Public Policy indicated that White got 35 percent of Hispanic voters, 17 percent of black voters, 55 percent of white voters and 70 percent of Asian-American voters.
The exit polling also showed that White drew 53 percent from self-described moderates, 58 percent from liberals and 28 percent from conservatives.
White's support among Republicans, 30 percent, flew in the face of heavy advertising from the Harris County Republican Party, which launched a big campaign to label White a "liberal Democrat." He was chairman of the Texas Democratic Party from 1995 to 1998.
As the 2003 campaign wore on, Turner and Sanchez appeared unable to maintain their bases.
Turner polled about 75 percent among black voters, according to exit polling, and drew less than 10 percent among Republicans, whites and Hispanics.
Turner was hurt by his support for Rep. Tom Craddick of Midland for state House speaker.
Fellow black Reps. Garnet Coleman and Senfronia Thompson pounded Turner for that and endorsed White.
"White is the first white candidate since the (former Mayor Kathy) Whitmire days who has really gone out and made that effort to woo blacks," Jones said.
Sanchez, meanwhile, lost his steam among Hispanic voters, who helped galvanize his 2001 campaign in hopes of electing the city's first Hispanic mayor.
The exit polling indicated that Sanchez got 55 percent of Hispanic voters, compared with more than 70 percent in his 2001 runoff.
Tatcho Mindiola, director of Mexican-American studies at the University of Houston, said Sanchez, a Cuban-American, has lost stature among historically Democratic-voting Mexican-Americans because he is a Republican.
That probably kept his totals down Tuesday and could hurt him in a runoff.
"It's been two years, and people have taken a close look at him," Mindiola said. "That didn't help Orlando, who seems to be captive of a very rigid element inside the Republican Party."
Sanchez made a hard right turn, coming out against Metro's plan and siding with tax-cut conservatives after fellow Republican Michael Berry dropped out of the race.
But that didn't win Sanchez as much Republican support as he had hoped.
Besides, party affiliation appeared less important this year than in 2001, when Republicans heavily supported Sanchez. Only 10 percent of voters in the exit polls listed party affiliation as their top consideration in selecting a mayoral candidate. Of those, 57 percent voted for Sanchez.
Thirty-six percent of voters polled indicated that "ability to do the job" was the most influential criterion in voting for a mayoral candidate. Of those, 51 percent voted for White, 36 voted for Turner and 10 percent voted for Sanchez.
We should find out this week when the runoff will be. My best guess is Saturday, December 6 - the first Saturday in December seems to be the default day. Anything can happen in a runoff, where turnout is often measured in single digits. If you want to see the person you voted for actually win instead of just making it to the finals, you'd better clear your calendar in early December.Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 05, 2003 to Election 2003 | TrackBack