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HD-76: Chavez and Gonzalez Head to Runoff

Democratic state Rep. Norma Chavez and El Paso attorney Naomi Gonzalez will likely continue their bare-knuckle battle in the runoff next month. Gonzalez ended the night with a slight lead over the Chavez, but neither were able to break the 50-percent threshold to avoid a runoff.

Naomi Gonzalez

Democratic state Rep. Norma Chavez and El Paso attorney Naomi Gonzalez will likely continue their bare-knuckle battle in the runoff next month.

Gonzalez ended the night with a slight lead over the Chavez, but neither were able to break the 50-percent threshold to avoid a runoff.

Chavez, who was elected to the Texas House in 1996, has been fighting the battle of her political career against Gonzalez. She has worked to defend her aggressive legislative style after a year of news headlines about her fights with other El Paso lawmakers.

Chavez did not immediately return phone calls but campaign consultant Chuck McDonald said he felt confident about the incumbent’s chances in the runoff.

“I think in runoffs, it’s all about your organization and field team, and that’s always been Norma’s strength,” he said. “So, I think she’s in pretty good shape.”

Gonzalez, an assistant county attorney who in 2008 lost a bid for El Paso City Council, has tried to convince voters that Chavez has overstayed her welcome and that the district needs a change in leadership.

“We knew this was definitely a possibility coming into it, so we’re still energized,” Gonzalez said, “and we’re obviously going to work hard.”

The district the two are fighting over is a swath of central El Paso where nearly a third of the residents live in poverty.

High-powered Texas attorneys have been fueling the political war, and the campaigns have each raised more than $190,000. Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a group that lobbies for limits on damages in civil lawsuits and usually supports Republican candidates, contributed nearly $170,000 to Gonzalez in her bid to unseat Chavez. Texans for Insurance Reform, a group of trial lawyers who oppose lawsuit limitations, sunk more than $107,000 into Chavez’s campaign.

The money for Gonzalez’s campaign has funded a barrage of mail pieces and television commercials telling voters that Chavez put the needs of lobbyists ahead of her constituents and spent lobby money on a party to celebrate her college graduation.

Chavez has spent her campaign dollars on messages that tell voters that the fighting she does in Austin is to take care of their needs. And she reminds them that her years in the Legislature have earned her valuable seniority that can benefit the committee when it comes to getting funds for important projects like the Texas Tech University four-year medical school in El Paso.

Chavez has long been considered unbeatable in her district, but El Paso Times polls leading up to the Tuesday Democratic primary indicated she could be vulnerable. An initial poll showed that 41 percent of voters in the district favored Chavez, 30 percent favored Gonzalez, 8 percent favored a third candidate and some 20 percent were undecided. A subsequent poll released last weekend showed that Chavez and Gonzalez were effectively in a dead heat, with about 38 percent of voters supporting the incumbent and nearly 37 percent supporting her challenger.

Our full primary results are available on the 2010 elections landing page.

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