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It’s White versus Sanchez

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.

The article mentions some exit polling, whose data is more fully fleshed out here.

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.

I did say that Sanchez would not do as well with Hispanics this time around, didn’t I? Nice to have a prediction turn out correctly. There’s a more interesting group of voters than all this, though. Remember that empty-chair ad that White ran about 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.

Now that’s effective advertising.

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.

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  1. Jeff says:

    Sanchez also ran far behind the GOP votes against rail. Looks like he got fewer votes than a typical Republican would have, as well as a smaller percentage than a Democrat with a Hispanic surname would have. Hope that trend continues in the run-off.

  2. Tim says:

    Perhaps fortunately for Sanchez, the Metro issue is done and decided. I think his adamant opposition to it was a bit of a liability. Even folks who don’t like the specific Metro proposal aren’t likely to be rabidly “anti-rail” in general; Orlando’s position seems to be anti-rail at all costs and I think that hurt him somewhat.

    The thing that strikes me about Sanchez is that he seems to be determined to woo his base, which was likely to vote for him anyway. He has done very little to give other swing voters a reason to support him.

    As much as White bugs me for various reasons (his attempt to buy the election, and claiming “outsider” status while being a Clinton crony), I have to concede that he has done a masterful job at developing a very broad base across race, party and ideology. I see blacks for White, whites for White, Hispanics for White, men for White, women for White, Republicans for White and Democrats for White.

    It is that ability to bring in voters outside your core that will lead to a White victory by (my guess) a 58-42 margin next month. Sanchez will hold on to his core, and he may pick up a few Turner voters who strongly dislike White. But he’s not going to grab 60% of Turner voters, which right now looks like what he’d need if turnout and voter sentiment hold.

  3. The thing that strikes me about Sanchez is that he seems to be determined to woo his base, which was likely to vote for him anyway. He has done very little to give other swing voters a reason to support him.

    Yep. Tiffany and I were talking about that last night as we watched some of the returns come in. I think that was a decent strategy to get into the runoff, but I don’t think it’ll win it for him.

  4. kevin whited says:

    Sanchez’s best chance to win as a Republican in a Democrat city was last time, after four years of an inept Democrat mayor.

    He had to try to make the runoff late in the game this time by playing to his base, because spending 6 million dollars and having those early ads go unanswered let Bill White define himself as a moderate, non-partisan, successful businessman that even Republicans could vote for. Had Sanchez followed the Rick Perry strategy of the last gubernatorial race and hit back early, he might have had a shot at working to broaden his own base (but he would have had to spend less campaign money in restaurants, and more on ad buys). And there was room to hit back — being Texas Democrat Party Chair and a donor to liberals is hardly nonpartisan and not necessarily moderate, and the failure of Frontera can’t be spun as a success. But at this point, Bill White has defined himself among voters, and anything Sanchez does to suggest otherwise can be spun as “going negative” (which turns off self-described moderates). And those ads showing a two sided Bill White/Lee Brown character are/were just stupid — no help at all, and a waste of money.

    All that said, I still think Sanchez has a better chance against White than he would have had against Turner. I just think it’s not much of a chance at all.

  5. precinct1233 says:

    Does this mean that Harris County might finally start building a decent local Democratic Party organization?