June 03 2012

Marc Veasey, Domingo Garcia headed for U.S. House District 33 runoff

Democrats Marc Veasey and Domingo Garcia advanced to a runoff Tuesday for the new North Texas congressional district, setting up a race that will require both candidates to expand their support beyond their home turf.

Veasey, a state representative from Fort Worth, finished first in the 11-candidate race for District 33 on the strength of the predominantly black Tarrant County vote.

Garcia easily won in Dallas County, where a low turnout, particularly from Hispanic voters, left him trailing Veasey in the overall race and with serious challenges for the July 31 rematch.

Unless Garcia can dramatically increase turnout among his Hispanic base, Veasey is poised to become the second black Democrat to represent North Texas in Congress and the first minority ever elected to Capitol Hill from Fort Worth.

If Garcia prevails, he will be the first Hispanic from North Texas ever elected to Congress.

Fort Worth City Council member Kathleen Hicks finished third and appealed primarily to black voters who are more familiar with Veasey than Garcia. And at least one Hispanic candidate in the race is expected to endorse Veasey.

“That’s the worst possible scenario for Garcia,” said Michael Sorrell, a political analyst and president of Paul Quinn College. “Her [Hicks’] voters will naturally go to Veasey.”

Veasey said Tuesday he was pleased with the result and looked forward to his campaign continuing its momentum.

“I’m happy that the people in the district believe in me and understand that I’m a Democrat with a record they can trust,” Veasey said. “I look forward to working hard in Tarrant County and working hard to continue to get to know the people of Dallas County.”

A smiling Garcia said he would reach out to all voters in District 33 and the nine losers.

“It’s a historic moment for the voters of Dallas-Fort Worth, especially minority voters who have been excluded by the Republicans for over a decade,” Garcia said Tuesday in Oak Cliff. “I want to expand our coalition, continue to bring more people to our message of getting America working again, improving our education and taking care of Social Security.”

On the Republican side, Chuck Bradley defeated Charles King for the nomination.

Minority district

District 33 was designed to give black and Hispanic voters the opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice.

It includes parts of Tarrant and Dallas counties, with a Hispanic population of about 67 percent.

But only 39 percent of the population included Hispanics who were eligible to vote. In contrast, 25 percent of the district’s black population was of voting age.

Black voters are the most reliable base of the Democratic Party and participate in elections at a higher percentage than Hispanics.

Still, the winner of the District 33 election, analysts say, will have to appeal to Democratic voters in all demographics or totally dominate their natural bases.

Tuesday night belonged to Veasey and his Tarrant County supporters.

For the first round of the campaign, he was tightly focused on turning out votes in his home turf. As pundits watched Garcia and Dallas businessman David Alameel develop elaborate, costly campaigns, Veasey relied on old-fashioned block walking and direct mail aimed at black voters to pull ahead.

At the start of the campaign he had little money, but he managed to raise more cash from independent donors than any other candidate in the race.

Hicks had stronger name identification with Fort Worth voters, but she had few resources to develop a contending campaign.

Veasey was also helped by Garcia’s gaffes, analysts say.

At one Fort Worth debate, Garcia lashed out at General Motors, American Airlines and Lockheed Martin, all big companies in Tarrant County that have employed residents for decades.

Union leaders already backing Veasey said they were even more energized after Garcia criticized General Motors for making “guzzlers.” He said he was against the costly F-35 military plane project that would save jobs at Lockheed Martin and called the management of American Airlines reprehensible.

Though Garcia said he was for the working person, blasting Tarrant County employers didn’t help his cause.

“It gave Democrats on the fence a reason to go out and vote for Veasey,” Sorrell said.

Veasey still has challenges. He has to raise money against an opponent who poured $600,000 into his own campaign. And he has to do better in Dallas County, where he has a small presence.

“We’re going to continue to work hard and tell voters about my record as a Democrat who supports education, job creation and a Democrat who was fighting for a fair redistricting plan,” Veasey said.

Formidable challenge

Despite finishing second, Garcia has proved to be a formidable candidate.

He ran a broad-based campaign that made aggressive appeals to black, white and Hispanic voters.

The former state representative and Dallas City Council member became ubiquitous in the heavily black and Latino precincts of Tarrant County, setting up two offices in North and South Fort Worth.

“In Fort Worth, I’m running against a well-entrenched politician who had been running for four or five months and got a five-month head start on me, so we’re trying to catch up,” Garcia said. “The fact that we’re in a runoff with them is indicative that we’ve done a good job in just basically a two-month campaign.”

In Dallas, Garcia won endorsements from most members of the Democratic political establishment, including state Sen. Royce West and Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins.

Those endorsements, Garcia figured, all but locked away Dallas County from Veasey and his other rivals.

But Dallas County’s vote totals were significantly below turnout in Tarrant County.

And though Garcia increased the number of Hispanic voters from the 2010 primary, he needs more to offset the base of black voters in Veasey’s camp.

“He’s got to get his base mobilized,” said Dallas political consultant Vinny Minchillo. “If the Hispanic voters don’t come back out, game over.”

Most of the 11 candidates were not factors in the race.

Former Dallas council member Steve Salazar, who has been part of 16-year feud with Garcia, had a disappointing showing.

So did Alameel. He dropped $2 million of his personal fortune into the campaign and was a fixture on television, radio and billboards.

For that, he got only 11 percent of the vote.

Still, support from Alameel, along with his campaign dollars, will be sought after by Veasey and Garcia in the runoff.

District 33 runoff: Three things to watch

Motivating and broadening the base

In the first round, particularly in early voting, black voters far outpaced Hispanics, benefiting Marc Veasey. For Domingo Garcia to win, he’ll have to do a better job motivating his Latino base. And both candidates will have to court voters on both sides of the county line. Though the black vote is critical in a Democratic primary, the winning candidate must bring together a coalition of minority voters while appealing to some whites.

Money

Garcia is wealthy and can use his own money to jump-start his campaign during the critical early weeks of the second round. Veasey, who did a good job scrapping for campaign dollars, will have to raise money quickly in order to maintain momentum in the runoff.

Courting the losers

Endorsements are overrated. But in a low-turnout runoff, support from fallen candidates like Fort Worth City Council member Kathleen Hicks, former Dallas City Council member Steve Salazar and businessman David Alameel could be significant.

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