Eight-term Democratic Rep. Silvestre Reyes lost his bid for re-election in Texas Tuesday night, suffering a tough defeat to former El Paso City Councilman Beto O'Rourke.
"We're going to take this 'can-do' attitude to Washington, D.C., and we're going to get the job done," O'Rourke told supporters as the audience chanted "Beto!" at his election night party Tuesday. "We're taking over from a man who has served El Paso in Washington, D.C., for the last 16 years and there's no two ways about it ... that's a tough job. ... And for that, we owe Silvestre Reyes our respect and our gratitude."
With all precincts reporting, O'Rourke received 50 percent of the vote to Reyes' 44 percent in the El Paso-area 16th District Democratic primary. O'Rourke's total was just over the 50 percent mark, which was required to avoid a July runoff with Reyes.
Incumbent Reyes championed his experience, his ability to bring federal dollars to the district and his future role protecting Fort Bliss during the Base Realignment and Closure process. He also attacked O'Rourke for his inexperience, his past drunken driving arrests and his support of legalizing drug use.
O'Rourke, co-author of "Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico," supports marijuana legalization as a step toward ending the War on Drugs. The primary winner serves as a stark contrast to his opponent when it comes to this issue. Reyes worked as a Border Patrol officer for over 25 years and staunchly opposes drug legalization.
At the tail end of the primary, Reyes ran an ad suggesting that children have more sense than O'Rourke when it comes to drugs. "Legalizing drugs is not the answer. Even our children understand that," the television ad stated as children shook their heads and slapped their foreheads in disbelief. Watch that commercial below:
O'Rourke did not make his position on drugs the focus of his campaign, however, but drug legalization advocates touted his position as part of a changing tide on the issue.
"It's increasingly clear that the era of drug policy reform being a political third rail is over," Tom Angell, spokesman for the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said in a statement early Wednesday morning. "Supporting clearly failed prohibition policies that cause so much crime, violence and corruption is becoming a political liability."
O'Rourke mainly gained traction by running an anti-incumbent campaign focused on ethics and corruption, accusing Reyes of being out of touch, while championing issues such as shortening travel time on bridges to Mexico as a way to boost trade and jobs related to international retail.
Ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) listed Reyes as a member of Congress who steered contracts and money to his family due to his position in office. And the accusation was picked up by the anti-incumbent super PAC Campaign for Primary Accountability, which ran a television ad on the issue.
A competitive primary took no one by surprise. The incumbent rolled out huge primary endorsements from President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, with the latter campaigning in person for the longtime lawmaker.
O'Rourke is now favored to win the heavily Democratic district this fall.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Steve Israel touted O'Rourke's win in a statement Wednesday, noting that Obama received 65 percent of the 16th District vote in 2008:
On behalf of the DCCC, I congratulate Beto O'Rourke on his nomination. Beto will work to solve problems and reduce the deficit, while creating jobs, strengthening small businesses and will challenge Republicans for protecting millionaires and companies shipping American jobs overseas instead of standing up for the middle class.
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