A special election to fill an empty northern Travis County state House seat is headed to a runoff, with Republican Mike VanDeWalle and Democrat Celia Israel advancing to a second round of voting early next year.
Throughout the day, VanDeWalle kept the lead, holding consistently about 39 percent of the vote to fill the empty House District 50 seat, while Israel had maintained slightly more than 30 percent of the vote.
Two other Democrats — businesswoman Jade Chang Sheppard and lawyer Rico Reyes — each were earning less than 20 percent of the vote as returns rolled into the Travis County Clerk’s office.
VanDeWalle, a political newcomer and chiropractor, said he is ready to compete in the runoff.
“I’m both excited and humbled at the same time,” he said.
VanDeWalle advanced easily into the runoff since he was the only Republican, and the other three Democrats split the Democratic vote. VanDeWalle, who was not as visible on the campaign trail as his opponents, will face a much tougher race against a sole Democrat in the liberal-leaning district.
Israel, a Realtor and onetime party activist, was not available by phone late Tuesday. In an interview on cable TV network YNN, Israel urged her fellow Democrats to get behind her candidacy.
“Let’s get united,” she said.
District 50 — which includes parts of Austin, Pflugerville, Manor, Elgin and Round Rock — was won by President Barack Obama with 58 percent of the vote last year.
VanDeWalle said he won’t be discouraged by voters’ past proclivities.
Voters might just decide that “we’re much like they are,” he said.
Israel defeated her fellow Democrats in a fairly contentious campaign.
Mike Lavigne, an Austin-based communications consultant, said in a recent interview that he was not surprised to see the Democrats going after each other, especially since they all agreed on issues such as the need for improvements in public education and access to affordable health care.
“When your positions look the same on paper, you have few options to distinguish yourself. And one of those is going negative,” he said.
One down, and as many as four more elections to go until the next representative for northern Travis County can take a vote in the Legislature.
The next step in the electoral process — after the runoff in January or early February — is a regular primary in March, and then potentially another runoff, followed by a general election fight in November of 2014.
Sheppard and Reyes could run again in March, but neither said Tuesday night if they would take a shot.
About 15,000 people, or approximately 15 percent of registered voters, cast ballots in the race to replace former state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, who gave up his seat last summer to head up Google Fiber.