March 5, 2020

Ghostbusters Needed in Houston House Race
as Texas Nominee Beats Dad in California Bid

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

Political insanity appears to be spreading faster than the coronavirus in the Lone Star State amid revelations of a phantom Texas House candidate in Houston and a Democratic congressional nominee who ran against his father in a U.S. House race that both lost in California in the Super Tuesday primary election.

The legislative and congressional candidates in question have a few things in common including the fact that both appeared on the primary ballot in Texas as Democrats with Hispanic surnames who didn't appear to raise any money for their respective bids.

But the similarities could end there in light of the fact that Congressional District 27 primary winner Ricardo "Rick" De La Fuente is a real person and House District 142 contender Natasha Ruiz might not exist. Both of the Democratic contenders who've made a mockery of election officials here demonstrated that it doesn't take much to have an impact on the political process in Texas and beyond.

The candidate who appeared on the ballot in HD 142 as Ruiz put longtime State Rep. Harold Dutton's re-election campaign in jeopardy when she received more than 20 percent of the primary vote in a development that might have prevented the Democratic incumbent from winning outright this week.

But Dutton is headed to an overtime bout with Democratic challenger Jerry Davis - a Houston City Council member who didn't fare that much better than Ruiz with 25 percent of the first-round vote in a district where the incumbent who's been a state lawmaker for 35 years only garnered 45 percent.

De La Fuente defeated Corpus Christi Democrat Charlie Jackson with more than 61 percent of the primary vote in the coastal congressional district where Republican U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud of Victoria was unopposed on his side of the aisle in a bid for a new term this year.

De La Fuente, who listed himself as a Victoria resident when he filed to run in CD 27, wasn't as successful in a bid for the Congressional District 21 seat in California where he finished third in the western state's joint primary election in a field with two Democrats and two Republicans including his dad and the incumbent.

Davis advanced to the runoff when he beat Ruiz by a grand total of 602 votes out of almost 13,000 that were cast in the district on the east side of the state's largest city. A fourth Democrat - Richard Bonton - claimed almost 9 percent of the primary vote after more than 1,000 residents there checked his name on the ballot in HD 142.

Dutton thought it seemed kind of strange when Ruiz failed to attend any of the events for the candidates or to show any signs whatsoever of an actual campaign. Neither one of the runoff competitors had ever heard of Ruiz before she signed up to run in HD 142 on the day of the filing deadline in December.

It's starting to look now like Harris County Democratic Party officials didn't do a very good job at checking to see if Ruiz qualified for the race under the state's residency requirements. As it turns out, a woman who's not Hispanic lives at the address that Ruiz listed on the ballot application. The real resident has said that she had never considered a bid for public office and that she had no clue who Natasha Ruiz might be.

It's conceivable that the candidate who placed third in the Democratic primary in HD 142 scored 2,597 votes in round one simply because she was the only female in the race - assuming that the person who filed to run against Dutton is really a woman. Ruiz also was the only Latino name on the ballot in the Houston House district where 40 percent of the residents are Hispanics and 43 percent are black. Dutton and Davis are both African-Americans.

While Dutton can expect to be favored in OT, it might sting to know that the runoff wouldn't have materialized if the votes that Ruiz received had been evenly split between the other three Democrats in HD 142.

Ex-congressional Republican David Valadao unseated Democratic U.S. Rep. T.J. Cox of Fresno in a rematch in CD 21 in California when the former and current lawmakers received 53 percent and 36 percent of the primary vote respectively. De la Fuente the Texas nominee clobbered father Roque "Rocky" De La Fuente in the west coast contender in a fight for third with more than 8 percent of the CD 21 vote.

But the elder De La Fuente might have been somewhat distracted as a candidate for president on Super Tuesday in the primary elections in Texas and California. Rocky De La Fuente - an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump's immigration policies - lost seven U.S. Senate races in GOP primary elections in separate states in 2018.

Rocky De La Fuente didn't prove much of a threat to Trump in either states - garnering 1 percent of the GOP presidential primary vote in California and less than 4 percent in Texas.

The younger De La Fuente faces the challenge of convincing Texas election officials that he's a bonafide resident of the Lone Star State if he ever expects to serve in the Congress in the highly unlikely event of an upset in the Republican-leaning district where Cloud will be a prohibitive favorite this fall. But De La Fuente would have the option of living anywhere in Texas while running for Congress in the southeast part of the state.


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