AUSTIN (KXAN) - Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett breezed past two challengers Tuesday in the Democratic primary despite being forced to compete on an unfamiliar battlefield.
In incomplete and unofficial returns, Doggett was holding a wide edge in both his native Travis County and in Bexar County, where he faced down a challenge from the county tax assessor-collector, Sylvia Romo.
Doggett was rolling up just under 70 percent to Romo's 25 percent. Longshot Maria Luisa Alvarado was far off the pace in the three person race. Romo conceded the race before 9 p.m.
The incumbent was exultant in victory.
"From the Alamo to the Alamo Drafthouse, this is a victory for working families," Doggett said after returning to Austin from San Antonio. "We have overcome Rick Perry and his crooked map that tried to pit one community against another. Thanks to the many who made this possible."
After his formal remarks, Doggett credited his big win to the campaign volunteers on the ground in both ends of his new district.
"It's an exciting night," he told KXAN. "It was a tremendous challenge. This was a yearlong effort to get this victory tonight.
On the GOP side, Susan Narvais was leading two competitors in early returns and hoping to avoid a runoff.
The district is considered a Democratic stronghold.
Redistricting past and present
For months, predictions have swarmed regarding the likelihood of Doggett losing his longtime seat in Washington.
Republican redistricting, a booming Hispanic population, and a formidable Latina challenger seemed like the perfect combination to wipeout his congressional career.
The 65-year-old Austin Democrat has faced redistricting challenges before. GOP gerrymandering in 2003 split Austin three ways. The 10th District had previously swallowed most of Austin for more than a century.
As a result, Doggett's home sat in a new, predominantly Republican district stretching from north Austin to the outskirts of Houston.
Doggett – who has been a member of Congress since 1995 and a political fixture in Austin since serving in the state Senate in the 1970s – soon moved to a reworked 25th district, which ran from Austin to the Mexican border near McAllen.
Doggett won the primary and later the general election in this heavily Democratic, majority-Hispanic district.
Now, nearly a decade later, politicos have been talking about a new Hispanic challenge for the lawmaker. That population – now nearly 38 percent of Texas – has grown by 2.8 million during that time – part of the reason the state has four new U.S. House seats.
Those additions gave hope to many Hispanic Democrats who expected their own to scoop up at least some of those new seats.
Since 1997, there have been just six Texas Hispanics out of Texas' 32-member congressional delegation.
Half of the new districts were meant to be minority-opportunity seats, extending into four major cities with large Hispanic populations: Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin.
Around 60 percent of the voting-age population in those two districts in Hispanic.
As last year's redistricting efforts spilled into court challenges this year, Doggett was forced to run in one of those newly-drawn district – U.S. House District 35.
He faces a well-known San Antonio Hispanic – Bexar County Tax Assessor Sylvia Romo. If elected, this former Texas House member would become the state's first Latina in Congress.
Also on the ballot is and activist Maria Luisa Alvarado, who has not run a high-profile campaign.
Courting Hispanic voters
Raul Rosa and his wife Guadalupe are proof Doggett can muster support within the Hispanic population. The East Austin neighborhood they canvassed in the last week was primarily Spanish-speaking, not a problem for the bilingual couple.
"I've known him for 25 years," Rosa said. "He always takes my calls."
"Without more neighbors like veteran Raul Rosa voting and working…to get neighbors to vote Tuesday, our community won't have a Democratic voice in Congress," Doggett told KXAN.
"Like every group endorsing in this race, from Tejano Democrats to Firefighters, Raul knows my heart and my commitment to stand up to Rick Perry and extremist Republican policies."
However, Doggett – who has been advertising across the district heavily – has millions at his campaign's disposal. Romo did not announce her candidacy until February, starting with just $20,000.
"This district is predominantly Latino, and I believe that the men and women of this district want a member of Congress who understands their needs and their concerns," Romo told KXAN. "Not another millionaire who is more concerned about being re-elected and fighting with other politicians to boost his own name recognition."
If Doggett wins, it would further show population does not always equal political power. Low voter turnout among Hispanics has traditionally been part of the reason behind that equation. Hispanics now make up only 20 percent of registered voters in the state.
Still, redistricting challenges
are still up in the air. Some prominent Hispanic groups are already gearing up for the next campaign season, when court cases could further change the maps in their favor.
Who is Lloyd Doggett?
A native Austinite, Doggett earned his Bachelor's degree in business from the University of Texas, where he also received a law degree. He was also the school's student body president his senior year.
His political life started in 1973 with the Texas Senate, an office he held through 1985.
He drew attention in 1979, as one of the "Killer Bees" – a group of 12 Democratic senators against a plan to move Texas' presidential primary to March 11 – a move meant to help former Gov. John Connally earn the 1980 GOP nomination.
Doggett and the others aimed for a closed primary, walking out of the chamber once it was rejected and leaving the Senate two members short of a quorum.
Doggett lost a bid for U.S. Senate in 1984. But he returned to politics by winning a seat on the Texas Supreme court, and in 1994, Doggett was elected to the U.S. House – one of just a few Democrats to win an open seat during a tremendous Republican victory nationwide.
In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a 2003 GOP-drawn map violated minority voting rights in a nearby district. It resulted in five districts being redrawn, including the 25th represented by Doggett at the time.
In the next election, he regained the majority of his former district in Austin – securing a voter stronghold until his current challenge.
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