While Republicans completed a historic sweep into political offices across South Texas, voters in western Nueces County cast their ballots along distinct partisan lines in areas mere miles from one another.
Democrats in four key races received the bulk of their support in western Nueces County from voters in both the rural areas of Nueces County and the City of Robstown. Those two areas accounted for 13,354 of the 20,181 total votes received by Democratic candidates in the District 27 U.S. Representative, District 34 State Representative, Nueces County District Attorney and County Judge races.
By contrast, 14,050 of the 22,389 votes obtained by Republican candidates in those same races came solely from the Annaville/Calallen area.
The numbers are similar when looking at the District 34 race, which saw Republican Connie Scott receive a total of 5,938 votes in western Nueces County to Herrero's 4,901 votes. The bulk of Herrero's support, which totaled more than 3,000 votes, came from the rural areas and Robstown. Scott only managed 2,187 votes in those two areas.
However, Scott surpassed Herrero's rural support in the Republican-friendly Annaville/Calallen area, garnering 3,751 total votes, while Herrero only managed to accumulate 1,576.
In 2006, Herrero received 2,651 total votes in the Annaville/Calallen area, but he did not face any Republican opposition, instead facing Libertarian Bradley Moore.
Dist. 27 U.S. Representative
In the race for U.S. Representative for District 27, Democratic incumbent Solomon P. Ortiz was also overcome by his Republican challenger, Blake Farenthold in western Nueces County.
Farenthold received a total of 5,490 votes to Ortiz's 4,773 votes, and received the bulk of his support from the Annaville/Calallen area. However, Ortiz saw a 270-vote drop in support from his hometown of Robstown, while Farenthold increased the vote totals in Robstown from those of the 2006 Republican challenger, Willie Vaden, by 225 votes.
That trend was more noticeable in the Annaville/Calallen area, where Farenthold received 656 more votes than Vaden had accumulated in 2006, coming up with 3,451 total votes. Ortiz came up 471 votes short of his 2006 totals in the Annaville/Calallen area, an area he lost as well that year, winding up with 1,525 votes.
Mark Skurka was the only Democratic challenger to win in terms of overall voter support in western Nueces County, a sign that Republican supporters weren't comfortable casting their votes for incumbent District Attorney Anna Jimenez.
Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Pusley, a supporter of Jimenez when she was appointed to the position by Gov. Rick Perry earlier this year, said it was likely her decision to fire veteran employees of the District Attorney's office soon after she took over that cost her the election. The fallout and controversy from that decision, among others, left a bad feeling among supporters within her own party, he added.
"We (Republican Party) are obviously very disappointed that the governor's appointee and somebody who was supported by the outgoing district attorney (Carlos Valdez) was not re-elected in a Republican landslide," Pusley said. "I think the politics overwhelmed her. She did not have a great deal of experience in the political spectrum and she was just overwhelmed."
Skurka was a veteran prosecutor with more than 20 years experience in the District Attorney's office before being dismissed by Jimenez, who cited a policy from Valdez's tenure that did not allow prosecutors to be employed if they are seeking political office.
Voters in the Annaville/Calallen area, which gave tremendous support to all other Republican candidates in key local, state and federal races, nearly split their votes between Jimenez and Skurka. Jimenez still emerged from the Annaville/Calallen area with more votes than Skurka - 2,866 to 2,407 - but received far less support than other Republican candidates.
In fact, those numbers were the lowest of all Republican candidates in the four key races, with Farenthold second-lowest at 3,451 votes.
Nueces County Democratic Party Chair Rose Meza Harrison said while the controversy may have hurt Jimenez some at the polls, she felt it was ultimately Skurka's experience that may have driven some Republican voters his way.
"His experience was way more than Anna's," she said. "You just can't beat that."
Republican incumbent Loyd Neal led all candidates, from either party, in overall voter support in last week's General Election. And despite losing to his challenger in the rural areas and Robstown, he managed an increase in total votes there compared to those he received when first seeking the County Judge seat in 2006.
Neal wrapped up 6,273 votes in western Nueces County, compared to the 4,474 votes received by Democratic challenger Clarissa Gonzalez. Nearly 4,000 of Neal's total vote count, however, came from the Annaville/Calallen area.
Gonzalez garnered 3,155 total votes in the rural areas and Robstown, however, besting Neal's 2,291 votes. In spite of that, Neal managed to see an increase in voter support in those two areas when compared to his results in 2006, when he faced Democrat Larry Olivarez for the County Judge seat that had been vacated by Terry Shamsie.
In Robstown alone, Neal received 247 more votes than in 2006, while Gonzalez showed a 284-vote decrease than what Olivarez had received that same year. Overall, Neal saw a 464-vote increase from his initial run for County Judge in 2006 in the rural Nueces County/Robstown area.
Neal said he was not expecting to fare well in areas that are normally Democratic strongholds, like the rural areas and Robstown, especially with the controversy that surrounded his proposal for a countywide drainage district that would pay for, in part, some rural drainage improvements.
Still, Neal felt it was his years of leadership and experience that swayed voters to cast their ballots for him over an opponent that has never held public office.
"I think that was a major factor," he said. "People felt comfortable with the style that I demonstrate and the fairness (the Commissioners Court) chooses to lead with."
Harrison said her party's defeat on Nov. 2 was the result of a trickle-down effect from the political discord that the nation was directing towards Democrats on the federal level.
As the party that usually dominates South Texas politics, Harrison said it was disappointing to see such high-profile incumbents for the Democrats, like Abel Herrero, Solomon P. Ortiz and Manuel Banales, fall to less-experienced Republican challengers.
In addition to spending large amounts of money on television and print advertisements, Democrats utilized Internet technology to promote many of their candidates, such as creating social networking profiles on Facebook and sending campaign messages via e-mail, Harrison said. The end result was that she and her party did everything possible to bring Democrats out to the polls, an effort that proved futile, she added.
"I believe we did everything we possibly could," she said. "It just did not shake our base like we hoped."
The party now has to regain its footing and prepare for the next round of state and county elections, which will take place in two years. The unknown is whether any of the momentum Republicans are enjoying now due to the Tea Party movement will have faded then.
Harrison said the backlash directed at Democrats, both locally and nationwide, from Tea Party and Republican supporters seemed to begin with President Barack Obama's election in 2008 and is concerning to her. The criticism he faced once he took office as the nation's first African American president, she added, seemed to be racially motivated.
"It's almost got a racial flavor to it. I believe the Republicans haven't wanted him to be in office since Day One," she said. "I don't know if it's because he's black…but he's been one of the most disrespected presidents in history. People don't want to talk about it, but it's there."
Repeated calls to Nueces County Republican Party Chair Kimberly Curtis seeking comment for this story were not returned as of press time.