The conventional wisdom sure looks dumb when it is wrong. The Republican frontrunners in the race to fill Anna Mowery’s unexpended term were supposed to be Craig Goldman, whose brother Adam had worked in the Bush White House, and former lawmaker Bob Leonard. (The sole Democratic candidate was attorney Dan Barrett.) Goldman was clearly the annointed candidate in Republican circles. He had pledged to support Craddick for speaker. His contributor list included Phil Gramm $2,500; Friends of Phil Gramm (which reminds me of the old joke that even Gramm’s friends didn’t like him) $2,000; Tom Loeffler (former congressman turned San Antonio lawyer and power broker) $1,250; James Huffines (UT regent and Perry confidante) $1,000; Dee Kelly (Bass Brothers attorney) $500; Erle Nye (former TXU bigwig) $500; Gary Polland (conservative activist and former Harris County Republican chair) $500; Pam Willeford (Armstrong Ranch guest when Cheney shot Harry Whittington) $100; Mark McKinnon (former Bushie who, like Adam Goldman, works at Public Strategies) $500. Even the American Conservative Union gave him $100. Altogether, Goldman raised $181,453.77 in the reporting period that ended on September 30 and raised another $60,000 in October. He received five-figure contributions from donors as far away as California and Tennessee.

And it all went down the drain. Goldman got 16.7% of the vote in a seven candidate, nonpartisan race. Leonard, despite having Mowery’s endorsement, didn’t do much better with 18.7%. Trial lawyer Dan Barrett, the lone Democrat, led the balloting with 31.8% and family physician Mark Shelton finished second with 22.8%. Shelton’s fundraising was quite remarkable. He received $10,000 from TMA and a grand from the family physicians, but otherwise his report was full of small contributions from doctors, doctors, doctors, and I do mean small: most of them $150 to $300, and I saw only one that exceeded $500.

I spoke to a lobbyist yesterday who represents some doctors and was NOT surprised that Shelton won. In conversations leading up to the race with doctors in the district, the lobbyist learned that Goldman was regarded as a carpetbagger and had no chance to win. The doctors and especially the wives’ auxiliary (as Harvey Kronberg was the first to point out) were highly motivated on Shelton’s behalf.

There’s a lesson here that may well prove true throughout the election season: Motivation trumps money. It’s no coincidence that the candidates in the runoff are those with the most motivated following: the Democrat and the doctor.

Barrett goes into the runoff with a 1,558 vote lead over Shelton. The other five Republicans amassed 7,886 votes between them. If both candidates can hold onto their votes, Shelton needs to get 19.7% of the voters for losing candidates to return to the polls in order to overtake Barrett. The Republicans are fortunate that their grass-roots candidate won. Goldman or Leonard wouldn’t stand a chance.

Before the Democrats get too giddy, however, they should keep in mind that even if Barrett wins, the likelihood is that victory would be symbolic only. Unless Perry has something up his sleeve, there is no expectation that there will be a special session. The real race to succeed Mowery will come in the 2008 general election, matching the winners of the two party primaries in March, and it is inconceivable that the Democratic nominee could win the seat.