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Judith Gutierrez photo by Tim Eaton solo. Other times, his wife walks with him or volunteers join him. But there are no paid staffers; he’s never paid anyone to work on his campaigns. The Benavides campaign operates, by contrast, like a big humming machine. Staffers around the county are on the Benavides payroll. Some work the phones to identify undecided voters, and when they find one, the name gets added to a list for a personal phone call from the candidate himself. Benavides told me he walks blocks, but on the day I dropped in, he slapped backs at a bowling event for kids and checked on the staff at campaign headquarters. He also spent a considerable amount of time re-applying Neutrogena Healthy Defense makeup during the taping of a television commercial. In this one, he responded to one of Bruni’s attacks about tax dodgingan accusation that made Benavides so mad he filed a defamation suit against Bruni. \(The case is pending but not likely to get too far Those hard-edged tactics used by Bruni may have been partly what cost him the election. Thompson, the A&M International political science professor, said Bruni’s managers “gave him some bad advice” by urging a negative campaign. While the challengers attempted to run on positive themes, Bruni went after each opponent with harsh television ads. Thompson notes that negative ads can backfire. “I think he went too negative, and I think also that he may have gone overboard. People were just turned off by those negative ads,” Thompson said. Gutierrez said one of the reasons she entered the race was because of Bruni’s proclivity to offend citizens in commissioners court. The Laredo THE MARQUEE RACE IN HIDALGO COUNTY! Deep in the Rio Grande Valley, another incumbent county judge failed to win re-election in a high-dollar race for the county’s top spot. Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia was barely dislodged by Juan de Dios “J.D.” Salinas in the March 7 Democratic primary. According to an unofficial tally, Salinas gathered 9,596 votes, or 50.3 percent of the vote. Salinas had to dish out about three-quarters of a million dollars to take the post. “If you are going to try to unseat incumbents, you better bring a good war chest with you,” says Jerry Polinard, a political science professor at the University of TexasPan American. “Good county judges’ races don’t come cheap anymore.” Salinas says he had no choice but to spend heavily in the campaign against Garcia. “He was a multimillion-dollar trial lawyer and an incumbent and a political institution who’s been around for 30-plus years, and he’s got a great politi cal machine that I had to outwork,” says Salinas, a former Hidalgo County Clerk. Final campaign finance reports are not yet available and Judge Garcia didn’t return calls, but Salinas estimates that Garcia spent at least $800,000about what he reportedly spent four years ago to beat then-incumbent Judge Eloy Pulido. Polinard says the campaign, which was “by far the marquee race in the county,” largely focused on the conflict between Garcia and the county commissioners. The commissioners backed Garcia four years ago but this time supported his opponent. Commissioner Hector “Tito” Palacios supported Salinas early. He says he appreciated Salinas’s pledge to be a full-time county judge. He faulted Garcia for spending too much time as a plaintiffs’ lawyer. “It’s not that we don’t want to work with him,” Palacios says of Garcia. “He really didn’t spend, in my opinion, a lot of time as county judge.” Garcia reportedly didn’t take the squeaker of a loss well. A local television station, KRGV, said Garcia is planning to ask for a recount of the election that the county says he lost by 616 votes. Considering his line of work, a lawsuit wouldn’t surprise too many people either, especially in light of news from the electronic newspaper The Rio Grande Guardian that cited an unnamed source close to Garcia as saying that the recount is a precursor to a lawsuit, though it has been unclear on what grounds he might sue. TE 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 24, 2006