But Democrats gained enough seats in the 150- member Texas House of Representatives - an increase of five, and possibly six, over the 63 they had in 2005 - that they may be able to remove Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick.
To do so, the Democrats would have to cut a deal with enough Republicans turned off by Craddick's autocratic leadership style to pick a replacement. For that to work, the Democrats would have to have a near-solid front, and then let Republicans discontented with Craddick choose among themselves the Republican to be speaker.
Craddick released a list of 109 members and members-elect on Wednesday. But as Quorum Report editor Harvey Kronberg pointed out, former Democratic Speaker Pete Laney had more pledges than that when Craddick beat him four years ago.
The Democrats' gains came by holding all their contested seats, including the Republican-leaning West Texas seat being vacated by Laney, D-Hale Center, plus:
+ Knocking off three GOP incumbents - Toby Goodman of Arlington (HD 93), Bill Keffer of Dallas (HD 107), and Martha Wong of Houston (HD 134). Their respective replacements will be Democrats Paula Hightower-Pierson of Arlington, Allen Vaught of Dallas, and Ellen Cohen of Houston.
+ Winning, with Democrat Valinda Bolton, the open Austin District 47 Republican Terrry Keel has represented for a decade.
+ Holding House District 48 that Democrat Donna Howard won after Republican Todd Baxter quit.
+ One seat still hanging as of press time was Democrat Juan Garcia's effort to unseat Republican Gene Seaman in District 32, north of Corpus Christi. One box still out held the balance, and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Jim Dunnam said that precinct has a 70 percent Democratic history.
Dunnam said at a Wednesday press conference that he thinks a bipartisan coalition will be assembled in the House, but refused to speculate on whether Craddick might be unseated as speaker.
"If this is going to happen, it's going to happen among the (House) members, and not in the newspapers," Dunnam said.
Even if the Democrats don't achieve a leadership change, their increased strength, coupled with the loss in the primaries of some key Republican Craddick supporters, Dunnam said the balance of power has changed, particularly on education. Craddick was forced to vote to break ties several times in the past session, and a few more votes makes a huge difference. More outcomes of Tuesday's election:
Democrat Nick Lampson, who Tom DeLay drew out of his Beaumont congressional district in 2003, will take over DeLay's District 22 in January. He won over write-in Houston City Councilwoman Republican Shelley Sekula- Gibbs.
Republican Henry Bonilla of San Antonio was forced into a runoff with former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez in a special election in District 23, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso. The special election was forced after a court re-drew the district to add more Hispanics.
Democrat Chet Edwards of Waco easily defended his 17th District in Central Texas with more than 58 percent over Iraq war vet Van Taylor, despite the fact President Bush's Crawford ranch is in the district.
No surprises, with districts so gerrymandered that most are decided in party primaries. But El Paso Democrat Eliot Shapleigh withstood a spirited challenge from Donald R. "Dee" Margo with almost 59 percent of the vote.
Two newcomers in particular will be watched with interest. One, anti-tax Republican talk radio owner Dan Patrick of Houston, has been critical of the state's Republican leadership. Another, former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, is considered a skilled solution-oriented negotiator, who may help forge some consensus in the body.
Reach McNeely at email@example.com or (512) 458-2963.