Crash! That sound is the end of Chris Bell’s hope to remain competitive in the governor’s race. Friday was the eighth day before the election, the deadline for the last filing period for campaign contributions, and Bell reported just $84,106 cash on hand for the final week. Bell’s impoverishment could not come at a worse time, since the new Zogby poll shows him at a high water mark: Perry 37%, Bell 29%, Strayhorn 15%, Friedman 14%. (Remember, Zogby respondents do not represent a random sample; they represent people who sign up with Zogby and are willing to be polled. These results should not be taken as definitive. I believe that Zogby’s interactive polls undersample indendents and have a major-party bias.)

The question is whether Bell’s cash on hand represents what is left BEFORE or AFTER any media buy. The Houston Chronicle is reporting this morning that Bell has booked no time on local stations KPRC or KHOU and quotes spokesmen for both the Strayhorn and Perry campaigns saying that Bell has booked no TV time for the final week. Media buyers generally know what other media buyers are doing.) The Quorum Report (see the “Daily Buzz” section for Monday) quotes a Bell spokesman as saying that the campaign has bought enough media time for the duration of the campaign. Bell told the Chronicle that John O’Quinn, the Houston trial lawyer who has singlehandedly financed his campaign for the past month, gave anothe $300,000 for TV advertising. A week of statewide TV costs an estimated $1.3 million, or about $185,700 per day, so O’Quinn’s money nets Bell the equivalent of about a day and two-thirds. The Bell campaign also ‘fessed up that an announced $1.5 million loan from O’Quinn was actually for $1 million.

If Bell is going to “go dark,” as the pros say, meaning that he is off TV, he will surely drop from his current high water mark. How far can Bell drop and where will his votes go? Throughout the campaign, he has struggled for support in minority communities, where local candidates often run unopposed in general elections, and the turnout is low, since the Democratic nomination is tantamount to victory. So there isn’t much meat on the bones for Friedman and Strayhorn to pick over. He might drop into the mid-twenties. I doubt that white liberals will desert him for Strayhorn. That’s why they’re liberals: to vote Democratic, period. I can’t see them voting for Strayhorn, even if they do hate Perry. So Bell’s loss isn’t necessarily Strayhorn’s gain. Not that she’s in any position to challenge Perry anyway.

The future of the Democratic party in Texas rests on its ability to persuade potential candidates and donors that its statewide ticket can be competitive. How many readers can even name the Democratic candidates for U.S. senator, lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, land commissioner, agriculture, and railroad commissioner? Come to think of it, I can’t name the land commissioner and railroad commissioner candidates. Who donates to Democrats other than trial lawyers? Texas is still fertile fundraising ground for Democratic candidates for president and in U.S. Senate races in other states. Democratic candidates are viable in an increasing number of state legislative districts currently held by Republicans but in no Senate districts. To set the stage for 2010, it is imperative that Bell finish second. It seems likely now that he will.