November 19, 2004
Vo certified

The Texas Secretary of State has officially certified Hubert Vo as the winner in the HD149 race over Talmadge Heflin.

Democrat Hubert Vo officially defeated veteran Republican state Rep. Talmadge Heflin by 32 votes in the closely watched House District 149 race, the secretary of state's office announced Thursday.

The official certification of the Nov. 2 election gave Vo one more vote than the 31-vote margin he had after the final ballot tally last week in Harris County.

The secretary of state's office said the canvassed vote was 20,694 for Vo and 20,662 for Heflin.

"The voters have spoken and we're excited," said Mustafa Tameez, a consultant to Vo's campaign. "We're grateful that this process has come to a conclusion."

But Heflin's lawyer, Andy Taylor, said the extra vote "came out of thin air with no explanation why it wasn't counted earlier."

"Why does the number keeping changing?" Taylor asked. "It raises serious doubts about the accuracy of the count and underscores the importance of knowing what really happened."

Taylor said that Monday is the deadline for Heflin to request a recount from the secretary of state, and Nov. 29 is the deadline to file for an election contest.

"We're still considering our options right now," he said.

I know I speak for all of us here when I say please, pretty please, quit considering and take one of those damn options already so we can stop boring Kevin with all these non-stories about what you may or may not eventually do. Sheesh.

Republican consultant Bill Miller, who seems to be speaking on behalf of House Speaker Tom Craddick, is advising Heflin to take the retire gracefully option.

State Rep. Talmadge Heflin, a senior member of the House Republican leadership team, should not ask his fellow lawmakers to overturn this month's election results, which showed him losing by 31 votes to a political novice, a key adviser to Speaker Tom Craddick said Thursday.

"A lot of people may feel sorry for Talmadge and say he got the short end of the stick. But when the votes are counted and you lose, it's time to move on," Austin political consultant Bill Miller said. "This is only my opinion, but there's no way that I see this [a challenge to the election results] coming to the floor of the House."


Craddick, who in January will begin his second term as the House's first Republican speaker since Reconstruction, has not said whether Heflin should challenge the election results.

But insiders from both parties said Miller's comment appeared to be a direct message to the veteran lawmaker that a potentially bloody post-election fight would be an unwelcome way to begin the 140-day legislative session.

"It's just not credible to suggest that this is anything but a very strong signal to Mr. Heflin to give up this fight," Democratic strategist Kelly Fero said.

State Rep. Toby Goodman, R-Arlington, said that challenging the vote count in the House would be unwise.

"I would hope he doesn't go that route," said Goodman, a 14-year House veteran who twice in the 1990s served on special panels convened when election results were challenged. "We don't need the divisiveness."


Miller said all sides should respect the outcome of the vote counting, which in the Vo-Heflin race took several days to complete.

"There's an old saying in politics that says if you're going to lose, lose big," Miller said. "It saves a lot of heartache and second-guessing and just lets you move on. And that's what should happen here."

Miller's been pounding that line about respecting the vote count all along. Maybe he is just speaking for himself, but I haven't seen anyone contradict him. If he's a straw in the wind, then perhaps Heflin really will avoid making a messy House challenge.

Meanwhile, here's an addition to the message versus mobilization files:

Mike Lavigne, chief of staff for the Texas Democratic Party, said Vo's campaign used a very advanced block-walking method that became available because of a new "voter file" the Democrats rolled out before this election season.

"This was more detailed and more organized than anything we have ever produced," Lavigne said. "It gave our candidates the ability to know where voters stood, and ended up being the key to a successful ground attack."

Lavigne said the system works by providing the candidates with demographic information on constituents in their districts. It rates people on a scale of 1 to 5 and tells the candidate where potential swing voters live.

While Vo went door-to-door meeting voters and encouraging them to get to the polls, Heflin took a less aggressive approach and was seen as lackadaisical by his friends, said Harvey Kronberg, editor of the Quorum Report, an online site that covers Texas politics.

"Ten days before the election, Heflin was out of his district campaigning for another candidate," Kronberg said.

Karen Loper, Vo's campaign manager, said that Speaker of the House Tom Craddick became increasingly concerned about the race toward the end of the campaign and held a fund-raiser on Heflin's behalf, which generated $200,000 that was used to air radio spots in the Harris County area. The effort was too little too late, as Vo took the election with a razor-thin margin of 31 votes.

Matt Wilson, political analyst for NBC, said the aggressive Democratic ground game also worked in Dallas, pointing to a wide array of judgeships and the newly elected Democratic Sheriff Lupe Valdez.

"The Democrats had very good ground mobilization, especially with the Hispanics. This proved to be a big key to all of the Democratic victories in Texas," Wilson said.


"This year Democrats defiantly got the better of the ground game," Wilson said.

Locally Mark Strama upset Republican incumbent Jack Stick in a slightly Republican leaning district. Again, a strong grass-roots attack came into play that succeeded in capturing enough swing voters to give the election to Strama by a margin of 556 votes.

"Strama broke new ground on voter identification," Kronberg said. "His campaign touched thousands of hands."

Kronberg said that Stick's ground game was "modest," and Strama's campaign will be "textbook" for future Democrats trying to win Republican districts.

Finally, whatever happens with Heflin, there are already two recount requests in the works: for Kelly White and for Eric Opiela. For White:

Kelly White, Texas House Democratic challenger, filed for a recount Thursday after provisional and overseas ballots left her with a 147 vote margin of defeat.

"Statistically this is a dead heat," said Melissa Abel, White campaign spokeswoman.


Mike Lavigne, chief of staff for the Texas Democratic Party, said there is no reason to think any inconsistency occurred during the election, but with the margin being so close, they want to be sure.

The White campaign will be responsible for meeting the cost of the electronic recount, which they anticipate will bear a price tag of a few thousand dollars.

"[White] owes it to her supporters to do this," Abel said. "We will use the electronic method because a manual count would be prohibitively expensive."

Alan Sager, Travis County Republican chairman, said the recount will not affect the results of the race, and White needs to understand the election is over.

"Of course she's entitled to ask for a recount, but we watched the process very carefully; we had poll watchers in place, and this is a waste of the taxpayers' time," Sager said. "Unless she sneaks some ballots in at the last minute, nothing is going to change."

One wonders what the Travis County Clerk did right that Bev Kaufman didn't, no? Anyway, for Eric Opiela:

Eric Opiela, a Karnes City lawyer and rancher, said the recount could prompt him to concede the District 35 House race or take the unusual step of asking the Texas House to mandate a new election after the 2005 Legislature convenes in January.

Opiela trailed Democratic candidate Yvonne Gonzalez-Toureilles, an Alice lawyer, by 854 votes on Nov. 2, according to results posted by the state. They each sought the seat representing seven counties held by Gabi Canales, who fell to Gonzalez-Toureilles last spring.

Gonzalez-Toureilles said today: "The fact that he's making these allegations is highly insulting to the voters. I won fair and square."

Opiela, a former aide to Gov. George W. Bush whose candidacy welcomed Gov. Rick Perry as a fund-raiser, said he will ask the Texas Secretary of State's Office to order recounts in Jim Wells, Bee and Karnes counties. His request will be accompanied by $1,852.25 to cover the costs.


Opiela said his campaign has identified hundreds of possible irregularities in Jim Wells and Bee counties. He said records suggest some people voted more than once and others voted despite not being registered.

He provided copies of voter sign-in sheets for a precinct in Jim Wells County showing more than 100 signatures but not the voters' names, addresses or other information.

"I'm not throwing any punches right now," Opiela said. "We just want to know the facts."

We'll see what happens.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 19, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack

One minor point worth adding to the "Message AND Turnout" discussion is this: In highly competitive districts such as the 149th, the need for GOTV efforts on the part of the challenger are typically amplified. In some cases (such as the 137th), they're even of critical importance for the incumbent.

In other words, if a district is 50-50, the outcome will generally come down to turnout. But this assumes that both candidates have some modicum of "message," still. When the table is slanted against you, however, you've got to hit a broadside against the other team and that rarely ever happens via turnout.

Posted by: Greg Wythe on November 19, 2004 8:42 AM

Here is what's a little disheartening, Helfin got so much of the vote with a message of, no kidding "vote for your nice neighbor" & "I am really loyal to the Republican party". Ok, he is the incumbent. Ok, 772 swamps the other precincts. Ok, he was a Republican in a presidential election year. But good grief, it's devoid of substance, and it's scary that so many people voted for him.

Posted by: Sarah Berel-Harrop on November 19, 2004 9:23 AM

One point of clarification. This idea that Hubert's sophisiticated targeting and block-walking program came from data provided by TDP is pure bunk. The campaign used data from THEIR OWN file. TDP had nothing to do with it.

Posted by: cletus on November 19, 2004 10:11 AM