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November 8, 2012

Decision 2012: Experts vary as to how district attorney challenger trounced her incumbent

RUSK — Three very speculative explanations for how Cherokee County District Attorney candidate Rachel Patton defeated veteran opponent Elmer Beckworth Tuesday night:

1. GOP dominance.

2. Incumbent fatigue.

3. A vigorously run and extremely fortunate grass roots campaign.  

Patton, a Republican, has been praised by many – including her Democratic opponent – for her dogged determination and great success in  prosecuting prosecuting child molestation and harassment cases.

The candidate's plain-stated, no-frills platform of aggressive and effective prosecution without regard for loyalties, status, or political concerns has appealed to many, especially those in the Republican party. Along the campaign trail, she won over many members of the Cherokee County Republican Club, said Josie Schoolcraft, one of the vice presidents for the group.

But some, GOP Party Club Chairman Jerry Rix in particular, are proclaiming her Tuesday night win an out-and-out victory by the Grand Old Party.

"We now are a very strong Republican County, and the straight Republican vote last night was 73 percent or thereabouts – and of course that tide brought in Rachel Patton," Rix said. "If she had done absolutely nothing, she would still have won the election."

Rix said the Cherokee County GOP has worked for many, many years to to bring the county to this point, politically speaking.

"Now it's here," he said. "At one time we had nothing but Democratic elected officials in Cherokee County and now the tide has swung the other way. It was that way for 100 years with Democrats and for us it has been the past 20. We have a long way to go but we are very proud of it."

Caesar Roy, Democratic Party Club chairman agreed with Rix on some points.

"This is a heavily Republican county, and I suspect a large number of Republicans voted straight ticket," he said. "Unless Mr. Beckworth had a lot of crossover voters, there is no way he could have won the election."

The Republican Party straight ticket vote of 5,884 votes took over 71 percent of the vote in the Cherokee County election.

But there's another possibility, according to Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman from the Houston area. Perhaps this victory wasn't the result of a straight ticket attempt as much as a "get rid of the incumbent" bid.

"Clearly in these cases the timing is very important," Morman, also a Republican, said. "I'm sure she worked her butt off like me and my family and our supporters. … But there is an anti-incumbent sentiment out there. People are sick of career incumbents and want to bring in someone new.  In my race, for instance, voters were looking at candidates with a more skeptical eye, regardless of what letters were behind them."

Morman, a Deer Park resident, unseated a longtime Democrat commissioner, Sylvia Garcia, a couple of years back. It turned out to be the first such upset in nearly 40 years.

At the time, Garcia characterized her ouster as the result of anti-Hispanic sentiment, although she later recanted that statement. She eventually joined a lawsuit by Latino activists that goes to trial next week. The suit claims the recent redistricting in that county illegally restricts the power of Hispanic voters. Morman said it seems like an illogical allegation given that his wife and children are Hispanic.

Bottom line, Morman said, he doesn't pretend to know all the details of the Cherokee County DA race, but he does know something about being a surprise winner of an election against a formidable incumbent.

 Patton, who was facing off against a former boss when running against  Beckworth, had a straightforward platform: aggressive, efficient and successful prosecution.

Patton said her campaign consisted of a lot of word-of-mouth about her from people who have served on her juries. It also came from friends or relatives or church members and made all the difference, she said.

Going up against Beckworth seemed like a “David versus Goliath”-type race for the 36-year-old Republican, who was pitting her eight years in the business against Democrat Beckworth's 30.   

She could not be reached to comment on Wednesday, but in an earlier interview said her bottom line on the matter was she ran a grass roots campaign to do a lot of good for the people of Cherokee County.

"I don't claim to be an expert on politics," she said Tuesday. "I did not run for office for that reason. … There was not a lot of money or big money people giving me the financial ability to do the things a lot of high dollar campaigns can do."

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