SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The election is over for the massive 23rd Congressional District of Texas. But the legal fight is just beginning.
Democratic challenger Pete Gallego won just under 52 percent of the vote -- but the Republican incumbent Francisco Canseco is claiming there were massive voting irregularities and he refuses to concede.
Seven o’clock, election night. The early voting numbers are released and it doesn’t look good for State Representative Gallego. The Republican incumbent is leading with more than 55 percent of the votes.
But at the Gallego campaign watch party at Don Pedro’s restaurant on the South Side of San Antonio, the mood is still positive. These die hards, including campaign spokesperson Rebecca Acuna, know that these early numbers don’t tell the whole story.
"Last I talked to the campaign manager were down 2,600 votes, none of Alberti is in," Acuna said.
These are the numbers from Bexar County. The strategy for the Gallego campaign was to hang on in heavily populated Bexar, and hope the West Texas border counties will deliver in big for the Alpine Democrat.
That strategy appears to be working for Gallego. As the early voting numbers from across district come in Gallego catches up with Canseco, and then the candidate shows up for the watch party to cheers.
"You know its very close, it certainly can go either way, we knew that from the beginning, it's not over until its over," Gallego told the group.
Still it’s not over yet. The Election Day tally from Bexar tips again for Canseco and worried looks return to the room as supporters like Lilly Morales study the numbers.
"All we can do is hit refresh on numbers to see as they come in. I’ve got my laptop and my iPad and my phone on three different sites," she said.
But again, precinct-by-precinct numbers are coming in and close the gap. The math looks good -- the outcome looks inevitable -- but the cautious and methodical Gallego isn’t ready to declare victory yet.
"Are you ready to say you’ve won?"
"Let me… what’s the story?"
"Twelve of 18 boxes reporting in El Paso and you’ve picked up about 6,000 votes there."
"Oh, he can’t make that up. It ain’t over until its over."
Then Canseco appears on the restaurant’s giant screen TV. He’s across town at his own watch party riding a political roller coaster that rises and falls in the opposite manner of Gallego’s thrill ride.
"We’re still looking, we’re still waiting for all the ballots to come in. Not until every precinct comes in," Canseco says.
The Gallego party listens for the words that Canseco won’t deliver -- he won’t concede. But Gallego shrugs that off and returns to scrutinizing the returns.
Minutes later, the outcome is undeniable.
Still, Gallego won’t believe it. He’s still waiting to declare victory until almost midnight, when fellow State Representative Joaquin Castro, who won the 20th Congressional District that same night, convinces him and introduces him to the crowd as "Congressman Elect."
"I want to tell you that today I am more energized than other to make sure that American dream is realized for everyone else the way its been realized tonight for me," Gallego said.
Gallego knows this night -- that as hard this victory was -- it’s going to be even harder two years from now, in 2014, an off-year election. The 23rd Congressional District could easily flip back to the Republicans.