• July 23, 2014

Democrats aim to turn tide in Bell County in November

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Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2012 4:30 am

If recent voter history has anything to say about the outcome of local elections, Democrat candidate for county commissioner Irene Andrews does not have much of a chance.

But that’s not what Andrews says.

“The night of the election, when I win, I’m going to tell you that the answer is ‘Yes, a Democrat can win, because we just did,’” Andrews said.

It is an uphill climb for the Democratic candidate for Precinct 1’s seat on the Bell County Commissioners Court. She faces incumbent Richard Cortese of Little River-Academy, who is seeking his sixth term.

Voter history has worked against local Democrats in statewide elections since 2000. Republican voters have amounted to a majority of ballots cast in each election.

In some cases, more than 68 percent of votes were cast for a Republican candidate. That last occurred in 2000, when Bell County turned out in big support of then-presidential candidate George W. Bush.

But in 2008, President Barack Obama won 48 percent of Bell County’s vote. That election year was marked with Democrats picking up state House seats in typical Republican strongholds, such as Williamson County.

But many of those legislators were turned out two years later amid tea party backlash, and Bell County did not elect a single Democrat in 2008.

But with Obama’s name back on the ballot, Democrats could make up a larger portion of the electorate here than they did in 2010, when they made up about 33 percent of straight tickets cast.

Beyond electoral history, Andrews has another advantage. She has out-fundraised and outspent her opponent.

Her $8,258 of campaign money remaining is nearly three times what Cortese has in his coffers, according to the most recent campaign finance reports filed this month.

She has spent almost 13 times as much as Cortese as well, with $7,011 in total campaign expenses compared to Cortese’s $543.

“Money plays a strong factor, but her message to the voters is a stronger message,” said Bell County Democratic Party Chairwoman Marianne Miller. “Not only is she outspending him, but she’s running a better campaign.”

Miller said Obama’s name could be a buoy for local Democrats, but Cortese and Republican candidate for Bell County Sheriff Eddy Lange said it would likely work against their opponents.

“If everybody goes out to vote, we’ll be OK,” Cortese said. “I’ve talked to people, and most of them are Republicans.”

Lange said a high turnout would cut down the odds of a statistical anomaly, favoring his party.

Lange is facing Democrat challenger Frank Hernandez Sr. Like Cortese, Lange has the advantage of name recognition. He has served as Precinct 3’s commissioner since 2005 and has participated in several elections.

But Lange said the hardest part of his campaign is over. He faced strong competition in the Republican Primary and a primary runoff against former Bell County Jail administrator Bob Patterson.

“We realized that the run-off was where our effort really needed to be,” he said. “We dedicated most of our money and effort there.”

In total, Lange has spent more than $59,000 in his attempt to succeed retiring Sheriff Dan Smith. Since he edged out Patterson in July’s runoff, Lange has spent just $4,175, or 7.5 percent of his total expenditures.

Lange’s total expenditures dwarf those of Hernandez, who has spent $3,255 since filing for office. And though his fundraising has slowed, Lange still took in nearly five times as much money as Hernandez in the last filing period and maintains more than six times as large a fund balance in his campaign coffers.

“We’ve got our signs out, we’re talking to people, but not to the extent that we were for the runoff,” Lange said.

Hernandez said he feels like he will win the election in spite of financials and history that say otherwise.

He said the greater amount of experience he has working within the Bell County Sheriff’s Office makes him the better choice. He said if voters are able to look beyond party lines only, he should win.

“I feel I’ve got that edge because I’ve been there, done that, served in many capacities in the sheriff’s office,” he said.

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