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Texas Politicians Show Power of Incumbency

Republican candidate John McCain expected to win Texas easily

 Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., greets supporters at a rally at the Long Center at the University of Scranton in Scranto...

McCain 2008

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., greets supporters at a rally at the Long Center at the University of Scranton in Scranto...

As 2008 campaigns enter their final days, the power of incumbency is evident across the sprawling Texas 23rd Congressional District.

In what might be the tightest districtwide race, incumbent Democratic Representative Ciro Rodriguez is seeking re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives against Republican challenger Lyle Larson. A third-party candidate, Libertarian Lani Connolly, is also on the ballot.

Two nonpartisan publications, Cook Political Report and Congressional Quarterly Politics, say the district is leaning toward Rodriguez. The incumbent had six times more cash than Larson to spend on last-minute campaigning.

The candidates have been sparring over charges by the Rodriguez campaign that Larson favors a 23 percent tax increase. The allegation is based on the Republican’s desire to replace the current income tax system with a national sales tax.

Larson calls the charge a lie and has demanded that Rodriguez withdraw a television ad containing the allegation. The ad is paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Rodriguez has defended it, saying the information came from Larson’s Web site.

In the contest for U.S. senator, incumbent Republican John Cornyn appears to be headed for re-election. His Democratic challenger, Rick Noriega, has been strapped for campaign funds. This race also includes a Libertarian candidate, Yvonne Adams Schick.

In the final weeks of campaigning, Cornyn had more than $3 million in cash on hand, while Noriega had less than $1 million. Cornyn has been running television ads across the state touting his support for the Texas energy industry and promising to fight for lower taxes and less government spending. He makes no mention of Noriega.

Noriega has been running ads on his campaign Web site, pointing out that Cornyn voted against bills for children’s and seniors’ health care and veterans’ benefits.

But the opportunity to upset Cornyn appears to be running out for Noriega. A Rasmussen Reports poll taken on October 19 showed Cornyn with support from 55 percent of respondents, compared with just 40 percent support for Noriega.

In the race for Texas’ 34 electoral votes, Republican presidential candidate John McCain seems to hold a big lead over Democrat Barack Obama. The Rasmussen Reports poll found 54 percent of those questioned supported McCain, with Obama favored by 44 percent.

The Obama campaign appears to have given up on winning Texas weeks ago, when it began recruiting Texan volunteers to help with get-out-the-vote efforts in battleground states such as neighboring New Mexico.

Neither presidential candidate has campaigned in Texas, and neither is running television ads in Texas markets.

If Texas votes as expected, the state could be the biggest prize McCain will capture on election night. Only California is bigger, and its 55 electoral votes are expected to go to Obama.

LOCAL CONCERNS

In addition to selecting officials for national office, Texas 23rd voters will choose hundreds of state and local officials, including state legislators, judges, sheriffs, county commissioners and school board members.

There also are numerous local initiatives on the ballot. In San Antonio, voters will decide whether to allow the mayor and city council members to run for as many as four two-year terms. They are currently restricted to no more than four years in office.

Texas 23rd voters, like most Americans, say their biggest concern right now is the weak economy, even though Texas has fared better than most other states. Access to health care remains a widespread worry, while national security and veterans’ issues are important to a significant slice of the electorate.

Election officials say there is intense voter interest in the 2008 election. Early voting began in Texas on October 20, and ballots are being cast at a record-breaking pace. County officials in the San Antonio area say as many as half of all the expected voters might vote before the final balloting on November 4.

With political passions running high, party officials say there has been a rash of thefts of McCain and Obama yard signs.

“They’ve been stealing them like crazy,” Bexar County Democratic party chairwoman Carla Vela told the San Antonio Express-News.

Bexar County Republican Party vice-chair Carol Van De Walle agrees. “It’s much worse this season than in the past,” she told the newspaper. “People are coming in for their third and fourth signs because they keep getting stolen.”