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Legislative Win Gives House Edge To GOP, Craddick

AUSTIN (AP) – A late legislative win for Republicans seems to have secured the GOP majority in the state House, if only by a razor-thin 2-seat margin.

With a crowded field of candidates and no clear alternative to Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick, the narrow 76-74 majority appears to give momentum back to Craddick in the volatile speaker’s race – and all but guarantees the next speaker will not be a Democrat.

“Speaker Craddick is extremely organized and very good at what he does,” said Democratic former state Rep. Sherri Greenberg, now a fellow at the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Politics and Governance.

Until Tuesday, all eyes had been fixed on the Irving seat held by Republican Rep. Linda Harper-Brown. But after the count of overseas and provisional ballots was completed late Monday, the incumbent held a 20-vote lead over her Democratic challenger.

If the late count had turned in the Democrat’s favor, it would have meant an even 75-75 split in the House. Now, it seems the race is Craddick’s to lose.

“Up to this point, they’ve been waiting to see what happened to the Harper-Brown seat in Irving,” Greenberg said. “I do think that (Craddick’s foes are) going to have to get organized quickly around a single opponent.”

But disarray, rather than organization, seemed to prevail for the group known as ABCs – Anybody But Craddick.

His Republican and Democratic opponents are divided and, as yet, unable to coalesce behind one of the three Republican or four Democratic alternatives to the powerful speaker. It’s much the same scenario the ABCs were in last year, when they twice tried and failed to oust Craddick from the post.

Craddick’s detractors have long complained that he rules the chamber like a dictator and strongarms lawmakers into obedience. The chaos came to head during last year’s legislative session, which ended with Craddick surviving a bitter attempt to overthrow him.

Rep. Mike Hamilton, R-Mauriceville, supported Craddick in 2007 but calls himself “undecided” heading into the 2009 session. Still, Hamilton predicted Craddick would keep the gavel.

“It’s too young, too early to know what’s going on,” Hamilton said, when asked who he was supporting. “I think (Craddick) is going to win. I think the numbers are just in his favor.”

The 150-member chamber will choose their leader with a vote during the first week of the legislative session, which begins Jan. 13.

Thirteen of Craddick’s allies released a letter reaffirming their support over the weekend. In the letter, they praised Craddick for the accomplishments during his tenure, including balancing the budget without raising taxes and bringing added transparency to the state budget.

While elections are rarely overturned, some uncertainty remains.

Harper-Brown’s Democratic opponent, Bob Romano, said he was “heavily leaning” toward requesting a formal recount.

“In order to do justice to the process, it’s something that needs to be done,” Romano told The Associated Press. “It removes all doubt then.”

Last week’s elections gave Democrats a three-seat gain in the House, narrowing their minority status to within two seats.

In the last five years, Republicans have squandered a 26-seat majority that had given them free rein in the chamber and made Craddick the first Republican speaker in modern times.

By APRIL CASTRO, Associated Press Writer

Associated Press writer Jay Root contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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