- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

SAN ANTONIO — Seven-term Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla, whose redrawn district seemingly jeopardized his re-election, has gotten a recent boost from a blunder by his best-known opponent and the backing of a bevy of Democrats.

The popular incumbent was thought to be facing a tough re-election race when former Rep. Ciro D. Rodriguez, who has twice represented the 23rd Congressional District, unexpectedly dropped out and then re-entered the open primary field.

Mr. Rodriguez announced Aug. 30 that he was quitting the race after encountering fundraising difficulties. Two days later, he changed his mind and started campaigning again — a move former backers didn’t appreciate.

“Rodriguez pulled a Ross Perot,” said Frank Tomaso, an El Paso bookkeeper, referring to Mr. Perot’s sudden departure from and return to the presidential race in 1992. “His was the only name that resonated with voters. He could have won.”

Gabe Quintanilla, former Bexar County Democratic Party chairman, said: “That was a very critical 48 hours.”

“Apparently, he had second thoughts for, I guess, 48 hours or so,” Mr. Quintanilla said, “but it was a crucial time. It could not have been at a worse time. It was at the very moment the AFL-CIO was considering its endorsement.”

By the time Mr. Rodriguez jumped back in the race, the AFL-CIO had endorsed Albert Uresti, another Democrat and a former San Antonio fire chief.

“So, unless [Mr. Bonilla] makes some monumental mistake,” Mr. Quintanilla said, “I think he’s home free this time.”

“If we do everything right, we can achieve our goal,” said Phil Ricks, Mr. Bonilla’s spokesman.

According to limited polling in the far-flung district, which includes San Antonio and parts of El Paso, Mr. Bonilla seems headed for a bigger victory than in 2004, when he carried 69.3 percent of the vote.

Mr. Bonilla also has the support of a group called “Democrats for Bonilla,” which the San Antonio Express-News said boosts his campaign further.

The district was redrawn after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a 2003 remapping violated the Voting Rights Act by favoring Republicans. It is now less Republican and more Hispanic.

Six Democrats and one independent are running against Mr. Bonilla in the Nov. 7 primary. If none receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will go to a runoff.

The one Democratic candidate capable of undermining the Bonilla campaign is multimillionaire Lukin Gilliland, a San Antonio lawyer-businessman who has vowed to spend $500,000 of his own money in the campaign.

“If he spent every nickel of that $500,000,” Mr. Quintanilla said, “I don’t think he can touch the name identification of Ciro Rodriguez.

“Unless a miracle happens, it’s Bonilla again,” he said.

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