Race to Raise: Cole vs. Vela

State Representative Dawnna Dukes had served in the Texas Legislature for 24 years. But after a serious car accident in 2013, felony corruption charges, and a last-minute decision revoking her earlier promises to resign, the field to replace her steadily grew.

A solid Democrat seat within Travis County, HD 46 saw five challengers emerge and the incumbent, Dukes, fail to even make the runoff. The two frontrunners were former Austin Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and immigration attorney Jose “Chito” Vela, also serving in local government as a planning commissioner for the City of Austin. Vela squeaked out a narrow lead during the first round of ballots with 39.52% to Cole’s 38.23%. But as is frequently the case in runoff elections, the candidate in second place in after the primary more often than not wins the runoff; Cole eventually won by a mere 183 votes.

Here’s a quick look at the numbers:

Texas House District 46 – By The Numbers
Sheryl Cole – Primary   Sheryl Cole – Runoff  Jose Vela – Primary Jose Vela – Runoff
Total Money Raised $142,090.88 $120,893.10 $42,002.98 $56,957.25
Total Number of Donations 347  261 346 252
Average Donation Amount $409.48 $463.19 $121.40 $226.02
Total Money Raised In-District $16,357.52 $12,751.55 $15,644.00 $8,984.00
Total Number of Donations In-District  61  50 176 95
Percent of All Money Raised From In-District 11.51% 10.55% 37.24% 15.77%
Total Money Raised Outside District $125,733.36 $108,141.55 $26,358.98 $47,973.25
Total Number of Donations Outside District 286  211 170 157
Percent of All Money Raised From Outside District 88.49% 89.45% 62.76% 84.23%
Total Expenditures $181,159.44 $62,465.18 $72,975.88 $47,527.93
Total Votes 6,025 4,991 6,227 4,808
Cost Per Vote $30.07 $12.52 $11.71 $9.88

Interestingly, due to HD 46’s demographic makeup, the seat is subtly viewed by political insiders as likely to elect an African-American. Dukes, an African-American female, had succeeded Wilhemina Delco, who happened to be Duke’s former boss and the first African-American female elected at-large in Austin. Based on their messaging and strategy, it’s clear the Cole campaign sought to continue that legacy.

Key Takeaways from the HD 46 Race:

  1. Austin Power-brokers and PACs Choose Cole.
    Cole was criticized as the “establishment” candidate due to her existing ties to Austin, including her work as a registered lobbyist for the City of Austin and the Fairmont Hotel. Cole’s list of campaign donors is evidence those in power at the Capitol looked to Cole as their best bet. PACs from all stripes, including the Texas Hospital Association and the Texas Association of Builders among others, contributed financially to Cole. Her two largest donors were Annie’s List, a PAC aimed at supporting pro-choice female candidates, and the Texas Association of Realtors. Chairwoman Senfronia Thompson, the longest serving woman in the Texas House’s history, endorsed Cole. State Senator Kirk Watson also donated $1,000 to Cole’s efforts. Some of Austin’s most powerful Democrat incumbents made it clear they wanted Cole; thus it is no surprise the PACs associated with Austin insiders backed her as well.
  2. In-district Donors Lose.
    Usually, the candidate who is able to net the most in-district donors wins. Unfortunately for Vela, this scenario did not play out in HD 46. Vela received an impressive 271 donations from constituents, while Cole received less than half that amount, at 111 donations. Nevertheless, Cole prevailed.
  3. Outsized Number of Donations.
    The sheer number of individuals who donated to each campaign is astounding. Cole amassed 608 individual donations, while Vela garnered an impressive 598. Approximately 1,200 total donations between the two candidates is an impressive feat. Clearly, both candidates had passionate support bases willing to pony up campaign cash. Should Cole not live up to her campaign promises, this level of support could provide an opening for Vela in the future.

Before you go

For an incumbent State Representative, Dukes received an incredibly small amount of financial support for her reelection, even taking into consideration her personal legal issues. That said, HillCo PAC — one of the most influential lobby groups in Austin — broke with the majority of power players and backed Dukes to the tune of $1,000, even when her campaign appeared to be on the ropes.


Our Race to Raise series takes a deeper look at the most high-profile races of the election cycle, focusing specifically on money raised by those seeking to serve in public office. Stay tuned for the next installment.

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