HOUSTON, Texas -- A longtime Texas lawmaker was forced into a runoff Tuesday night, but a ghost candidate may have helped make that happen.
Democratic State Representative Harold Dutton, who has long represented House District 142 in northeast Houston, already faced a formidable challenger in Houston City Council Member Jerry Davis.
However, the only female name on the ballot is what's raising eyebrows.
"When you're leading, you're never at a disadvantage," said Dutton. "But I think there are a lot of questions about what happened in this election."
According to the Harris County Clerk's election records, the third place finisher in the race is a woman named Natasha D. Ruiz. She received 2,597 votes, or just 20% of the votes. Dutton finished first with 45% and Davis made it into the runoff with 25%.
"We have never seen them, we never talked to them, they never showed up, they never had a sign. They don't seem to be a real person," said Dutton.
Davis didn't disagree with Dutton's assessment.
"I ran my race, I saw her name, Ms. Natasha Ruiz," said Davis. "I have not had an opportunity to meet her, or see her at any of the events. No signs in the yard, nothing."
Sister station ABC13 found a campaign treasurer filing document with the Texas Ethics Commission. On the document, the candidate's name was listed as Natasha Demming Ruiz. The campaign treasurer is listed as Hector Riveria.
Riveria's phone number went unanswered. However, when we called Ruiz, a woman picked up. Identifying herself as Natasha Demming, she told us she lives in Colorado and is a truck driver.
Demming said she has not lived in Houston for years. She is registered to vote at her elderly mother's home. Demming said she has no idea why anyone would sign her up to run for office.
The Harris County Democratic Party said its records show a Natasha Ruiz came into the office to file paperwork to run. ABC13 has not had a chance to examine the documents, but the station has requested a copy.
Meanwhile, Dutton said he has hired a private investigator to look into the matter, and is considering legal action.
Both Dutton and Davis said they are prepared to run in the runoff and win, regardless of whether this ghost candidate is real or not.
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Texas lawmaker says "fake" candidate forced him into runoff