No Regrets for a Disappointed Doherty

Larry Joe Doherty didn't win the race, but he made it winnable, which was no small feat

Rep. Michael McCaul, shown here at the Four Seasons, managed to pull off a decisive win over Democratic challenger Larry Joe Doherty.
Rep. Michael McCaul, shown here at the Four Seasons, managed to pull off a decisive win over Democratic challenger Larry Joe Doherty. (Photo by John Anderson)

In the end, the most serious, professional campaign ever run by a Democrat in the post-2003 gerrymandered Congressional District 10 still wasn't enough.

While other Democrats in the Driskill Hotel Tuesday night were reveling in Barack Obama's presidential victory, Larry Joe Doherty was having to swallow the hard fact that after a year and a half of campaigning, $1.2 million in fundraising – including $100,000 from his own pocket – and steady gains in the polls, his bid to unseat Republican Michael McCaul came up about 35,700 votes and about 10 percentage points short. McCaul won with 53.9% of the vote to Doherty's 43.1%. Libertarian Matt Finkel got 3.0%.

"I have stood up for the people of my district and have taken tough votes against my party and against the president," said McCaul. "And tonight the voters stood up for me. The voters of the 10th District know that I am an independent voice for them in Congress. To win in this environment with so much support for Senator Obama is especially satisfying. Senator Obama is now going to be president. It's going to be important for me to work across the aisle in a bipartisan way, and I have a track record of doing that."

At the Driskill, Doherty was clearly bitter but still managed a smile. "It started with the gerrymander, and it looks like it's ended with the gerrymander," Doherty said, referring to the scandalous middecade redistricting the now-disgraced former congressional Majority Leader Tom DeLay pushed through the Texas Legislature in 2003 to elect more Republicans to Congress. "The monster that was created to produce the result that has occurred tonight has in fact produced the result that occurred tonight.

"It's going to take more effort, not to take anything away from the people who worked on my campaign. This was a monumental and a heroic effort by a large number of people."

Rather than take Travis Co. for granted and target the conservative Houston suburbs and rural counties, Doherty focused on maximizing turnout in liberal Travis County. He had no regrets. "No, I don't think it was a mistake. Our read for how Harris had gone was that it was going to go our way. Travis went the way we expected it to go, but Harris is the monster. That's the end of the district that was designed to produce the result."

After the monumental and polished effort Doherty made, can a Republican ever be defeated in this district?

"Sure, it just takes more money. We raised $1.2 million total in this race and knew from a professional estimate that an "A" budget would be in the $2 million range. Because of the way the gerrymander was drawn, it's incumbent upon the challenger, not the incumbent, to win Harris County. That's always going to be an expensive proposition because Harris is the most expensive media market in the state, and this race will have to be won with an assault in that media market, and that assault will take more money."

Asked if he might take up the assault two years from now, Doherty said, "Man, I'm not even thinking about two days from now."

"I'm proudest of my first volunteer," Doherty said of his wife, Joanne. "We've been married 39 years, and if this didn't break us up, we're good for another 39.

"We took this race all way from an unwinnable, a solid red sea, to a virtual toss-up," Doherty said. "That's no mean feat. It takes time."

One for the GOP

It wasn't all gloom for Republicans Tues­day night. The Tom DeLay-engineered gerrymander of 2003 held firm in its goal of keeping the Texas congressional delegation majority Republican. In fact, while the GOP was losing some 22 seats in the U.S. House nationally, Texas Repub­lic­ans picked up a seat. And it's a seat Repub­licans will savor: District 22, DeLay's old post, which he had to depart under indictment and which Democrat Nick Lampson claimed two years ago. Pete Olson gave Lampson the boot by a 52.4%-45.4% margin. Libertarian John Wieder claimed the other 2.2%. This makes the composition of the Texas delegation 20 Republicans, 12 Democrats.

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Michael McCaul, Larry Joe Doherty, redistricting, Harris County, election

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