How to Defeat a 12 Year Incumbent

Jessica Vazquez did exactly this on March 3, 2020 when she defeated Judge Jesus R Herrera. Let’s see how.


Jesus R Herrera was first elected to County Criminal Court Number 4 in the 2008 Democratic Primary (no Republican candidates entered this race).Herrera first gained political experience as a candidate in 2004 when he lost 39%-61% against Angie Barrill for the 346th Judicial District. He tried again in 2006 for the 120th Judicial district, a race in which he was only able to garner 22% of the vote, finishing third to Luis Aguilar (33%) and Maria Salas-Mendoza (45%).   Finally in 2008, Herrera turned things around and got a big win against Israel Parra to claim the judicial seat for CCC#4 in its inaugural election. The election results were surprising, being that Herrera was heavily outspent by Parra $53k-$20k, and Parra had Rick Armendariz of Forma as his paid consultant. With no paid consultants and a shoestring budget, Herrera won 67%-33%. Herrera would enjoy being unopposed in the 2012 and 2016 Democratic Primaries without ever facing a Republican opponent (not that it would matter in El Paso County). However in 2020, unknown Assistant DA and first time political candidate Jessica Vazquez put her name on the ballot to challenge the third-term incumbent, seeking his fourth term.


Not surprisingly, Jesus R Herrera touted his experience. His message was basically, he’s already been there for twelve years and everything has been going great. Also, he made it a point to let everyone know he was born and raised in El Paso, a point that Vazquez made about herself late in the campaign as she added that information to her campaign literature. Herrera also touted his many endorsements that included national political rockstar, and El Paso local, Beto O’Rourke. Herrera had the endorsement of every known organization that gives endorsements for El Paso political races. Vazquez on the other hand was touting an endorsement from Sunshine Cleaning (who are they?). 

On the campaign trail, Vazquez was hitting Herrera hard on the fact that CCC#4 had a backlog of 270+ cases due to the unwillingness of Herrera to hold more than one trial a week. Herrera defended himself by saying that these are sensitive cases dealing with Family Violence, and these types of cases should not be rushed. Vazquez reminded voters that as Assistant DA she had been assigned to practice in this court, and is extremely familiar with these types of cases. 

Vazquez and Herrera debated each other twice, in which the general consensus amongst those that viewed the debates was that Herrera had the stronger showing each time. Political blogger Jaime Abeytia, noted in a January 20th blog post, “There was a good exchange between Judge Herrera and his challenger… Herrera really laid into his opponent in a pretty brilliant close.” 

Contributions and Expenditures (up to 8th day report):

Herrera raised $26,606 and spent $48,452. Vazquez raised $42,460 and spent $68,185. Herrera spent $2,500 on consulting and management (Mike Apodaca), whereas Vazquez spent $8,600 (Jordan&Hernandez). Vazquez did $8,139 in paid blockwalking, while Herrera only did $4,802. Vazquez also outspent Herrera in mail, spending $37,693 to Herrera’s $26,847. 

These are the only 3 categories of expenditures that really matter, especially in a down ballot race. Vazquez got the check mark in all 3 and this is why she won big, 62%-38%. The categories of expenditures that matter the least are signs/ billboards, contributions to Democratic organizations, fundraising, and tv/radio (yet so many, even professional consultants, swear these are ‘musts’) . 

Both candidates smartly spent $0 TV and Billboards, however they battled it out on who could spend the most on signs. Herrera won that battle: $2,386 to Vazquez’s $2,073. And on Democratic contributions, Herrera seemed to have bought all of his endorsements as he spent an insane $1,930 contributing to Dem organizations. Vazquez only spent $40 on Dems, and she should have saved that $40. Herrera also spent $1,460 on fundraising events to Vazquez’s $897, and still Herrera was heavily outraised. Vazquez’s worst expenditure was probably T-shirts as she spent $1,173, while Herrera only spent $670 on shirts. (By the way, a campaign can function perfectly fine without any campaign shirts. But like signs, I know you all have to have those shirts, regardless of the lack of effectiveness.) Vazquez also spent $300 on radio. It’s a small amount, so not the worst expenditure. 

The in-between categories of expenditure effectiveness are social media, website, and texts. Vazquez spent $500 on a good looking website, which is a pretty good price. Herrera also had a good looking website, but didn’t spend anything. I believe that was an in kind contribution, but he did spend a lot on a website back in his 2008 race. Herrera also didnt spend anything on social media, whereas Vazquez spent $761 on social media ads. Vazquez did $2,381 on texts. I know for sure Herrera was sending texts through ‘Shadow’, but the expenditure did not appear on the report. The bill was most likely received post election. 

Variables not in Finance Reports:

One thing you can never see in a campaign finance report, is how much walking the candidates and volunteers are doing. A candidate blockwalking themselves has a HUGE impact on the turnout of a down ballot race. Herrera is twice as old as Vazquez. It is hard to imagine that he would come anywhere close to knocking on as many doors as Vazquez. On Facebook posts the Herrera campaign touted blockwalk meeting photos with large groups of people. Herrera stated his feet were in pain from all the blockwalking he was doing. And when the campaign was over he bragged that his campaign hit 10K doors. Because of inside info we know that Jessica alone hit over 6K doors, despite having a fulltime job as an Assistant DA. That would be a lot of doors for even an unemployed candidate. Her campaign as a whole did over 30k doors. 30k doors to 10K doors. That is by far the number one factor in answering how Vazquez was able to pull off such a large win over a 12 year incumbent as an unknown candidate. 

Women heavily outperformed men in judicial races in El Paso county. Vazquez no doubt got a few free votes for simply being a woman, but her margin of victory was much larger than others, like Baca’s win over Nunez. It’s especially impressive knowing Vazquez was up against a three-term incumbent and Baca was in an open seat race against a candidate who got destroyed in 2018 in another judicial race. 


Jessica Vazquez’s win over Jesus Herrera was by far the most impressive win in El Paso County for the 2020 Democratic Primary. Sitting judges are rarely challenged, and when they are they usually win big. Despite being up against a woman in “the year of the woman”, Herrera should have still won what was supposed to be a close race. Instead he got demolished in a landslide loss.Herrera’s 2020 campaign against Vazquez serves as a reminder that endorsements and signs are not effective in producing a winning result. Also debate performance, especially when in front of decided voters mostly made up of campaign staff, is insignificant. While Vazquez did spend nearly as much on signs as Herrera did, Herrera put his signs on highways and major intersections, while Vazquez used her signs mostly on the yards of targeted voters that agreed to placing a sign after learning about her.  Vazquez heavily outgunned Herrera in blockwalking, mail, and consultants/management. And most importantly, she put the work in herself, as only a winning candidate can do. She hit the voters hard at the doors, walking tirelessly and wearing out pairs of shoes. And she was a relentless fundraiser, nearly doubling what the incumbent raised. El Paso candidates seeking office would do themselves a great favor by modeling their campaigns after Vazquez’s campaign.