By Justin Cox

Killeen Daily Herald

BELTON – Relief.

That's the feeling that overwhelmed Republican Ralph Sheffield, who took home 54 percent of the vote in Bell County's House District 55 race with Democrat Sam Murphey after Tuesday's vote.

When the early votes first popped onto the display screen at the Bell County Expo Center, one side was silent, the other not.

A supporter of Sheffield yelped when the number came back in his candidate's favor, hugging Sheffield as he stood alongside his wife, Debbie.

They knew a 7 percent lead, more than 3,000 votes, was too much to overcome.

It's been a long, tough road for the couple, and for the Republican party this year, which was divided during the primary.

"I feel great; I feel like all the hard work paid off," Sheffield said Tuesday night from his restaurant, Las Casas, in Temple. "The early votes came in and I knew that it would be tough for Mr. Murphey to come back."

Sheffield was the odds-on favorite to win the seat, which has been held by a Republican, Dianne White Delisi, for nearly 20 years. But after his heated battle with Martha Tyroch in the Republican primary in the spring, many throughout the district expressed concerns whether he could fend off the strong rise from Murphey, who had a financial backing like no other Democratic candidate had ever seen in Bell County. Added to that was the rise in Democratic support seen not only on the national level, but in the statehouse as well.

But on Tuesday, Sheffield proved the skeptics wrong.

He said it was the grassroots campaign effort, straight hard work, which won this race for him.

"The door-to-door contacts really made the difference. People know me to be a good Republican, and someone who is going to be a good citizen and help the county," Sheffield said. "My work is yet to be done. I'm ready to go to Austin, and ready to represent the district."

Murphey said he was a long shot to start, and was proud of how his guys fought.

"I called Sheffield and I congratulated him. I think that he earned it," Murphey said. "We gave it a hell of a shot, we gave it everything we had, we came a couple yards short.

"It just wasn't our day."

The special election, which added a quirk to the ballot process, proved to be slightly closer, but still the same outcome as Sheffield took exactly 50 percent of the vote to Murphey's 45 percent. Danny Daniel received 5 percent of the vote in a platform designed solely to bring attention to the issue of child and family abuse awareness.

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