The Austin Chronicle

Election Wrap-up

March 14, 2008, News

Noriega on Victory

It was a nail-biter, but it's finally official: With all of Texas' 8,247 precincts reporting, Houston state Rep. Rick Noriega did indeed avoid a run-off in his race to be the Democrats' U.S. Senate nominee. Candidates need 50% plus one vote to win outright, and clearing that bar was by no means certain for Noriega on election night. He started with a bare 50.26% of the early votes and for a while dipped under 50% as counting continued but finally finished with 51.01%. His main hurdle was that recurring problem for Democrats, San Antonio retiree Gene Kelly, a perennial candidate for whom many people vote either out of whimsy or confusion with the dead dancer. Kelly took 27%, Corpus Christi schoolteacher Ray McMurrey (the only opponent Noriega and the media took seriously) got only 12%, and San Antonio security guard Rhett Smith took less than 10%. But Noriega says he wasn't sweating: "In all honesty, we had prepared for a run-off given the number of candidates in the race and given the number of voters that were turning out that we didn't know who they were," Noriega told the Chronicle a couple of days after the election. "Given that [I'm] just a state representative, one of 150 in the state, we had to get out and introduce ourselves ... so quite frankly, we were pleasantly surprised. We're very humbled by the vote of confidence." But if he had this much trouble winning the primary against two names and one pseudo big-name, what does this say about his chances against Republican incumbent John Cornyn? "It means it'll be a tough fight, and I'll win the general election." – L.N.

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