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DESPITE A RATHER FEEBLE showing by Pat Buchanan in the Texas presidential primary—just 21 percent of the vote—the Religious Right showed great strength in down-ballot Republican races. In eight of ten key elections around the state, candidates identified with the Christian Coalition either won or made it into a runoff. (The Christian Coalition does not make endorsements but “educates” voters about candidates’ stands on issues like abortion.) The most impressive victory was by Pete Sessions, a son of ex-FBI director William Sessions, in a Dallas congressional race; he beat Dallas city councilman Glenn Box with 58 percent of the vote in what was regarded as an even race. Even the two defeats were, pardon the pun, moral victories. In a State Board of Education race in suburban areas west and north of Houston, Terri Leo got more than 45 percent of the vote against incumbent chairman Jack Christie, George W. Bush’s hand-picked candidate. In a Harris County race for the state Senate, former county judge Jon Lindsay was expected to be an easy winner over Jerry Dumas, but Lindsay just squeaked by with 51 percent. The scorecard for the Religious Right won’t be complete, however, until the April 9 runoffs. Races to watch: the deep East Texas congressional seat being vacated by Democrat Charlie Wilson (Brian Babin, who has the backing of Christian conservatives, trailed Donna Peterson, a loser to Wilson in previous races, by 4 percentage points); the suburban Houston congressional seat being vacated by Jack Fields (Gene Fontenot, a loser to Democrat Ken Bentsen in another Houston district in 1994, has Religious Right support and a 14-point lead against State Representative Kevin Brady); and a vacant legislative seat in Austin (Kirk Ingels, a Christian Coalition activist, slipped into the runoff with 24 percent, almost 20 points behind Travis County sheriff Terry Keel).
DOES POLITICAL NEOPHYTE VICTOR Morales, the former high school government teacher from Crandall who campaigned in a pickup truck, have a chance to win the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate against Dallas congressman John Bryant in the runoff? Morales led the four-way March 12 primary with 36 percent of the vote, in part because voters confused him with Attorney General Dan Morales. But he faces several pitfalls before he can face Phil Gramm. The first is to avoid a major gaffe and survive the scrutiny, both by the media and by Bryant. The next problem is that Bryant has an advantage in money, organization, endorsements, and political sophistication (he knows how to run a race, deal with the media, and discuss issues). But Morales has some advnatages of his own that have the Bryant forces deeply worried.
(1) Free publicity. Morales won’t have to pay for media advertisements to spread the word; the media will spread it for free (starting right here). His Cinderella story will get a lot of news coverage—including some on the national newscasts. On the day after the election, the Democratic state party headquarters was getting class from out of state asking, “What’s this about a guy in a pickup truck running against Gramm?”
(2) Protection from attack. Bryant can’t run a negative race against Morales. How do you criticize a schoolteacher who decides to run for the United States Senate because he doesn’t think Gramm is a good senator—and whose first campaign stop in the runoff was at Longhorn Automotive in Crandall, where he got his oil changed?
(3) Election Day turnout. This could be Morales’ secret weapon. Turnout was light on March 12, and it will be even lighter on April 9. Areas where there are runoff elections for Congress and the Legislature will cast a disproportionate share of the ballots, and that’s the key: Of the nine runoffs around the state that will bring Democrats to the polls, all but one are in Hispanic South Texas or have a Hispanic candidate on the ballot. In El Paso, where Morales ran first, with 44 percent of the vote to Bryant’s 18, there are runoffs for Congress, state Senate, and state House of Representatives.
THREE TEXANS ARE ON THE LONG list of possible running mates for GOP presidential nominee-in-waiting Bob Dole: Kay Bailey Hutchison (because if Dole decides to choose a woman, her views are more acceptable to Christian Coalition conservatives than those of her likely rival, New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman); George W. Bush (because he’s young and has star power); and Phil Gramm (because, uh, well, just because). The likelihood, however, is that Dole will look to someone who can appeal to the Northeast or the West Coast, areas that are likely to be the main battlegrounds, instead of safely Republican Texas.