The Blog

Sweeping the Lone Star State

In Texas, the GOP is a powerhouse. Only two state-wide offices are in doubt.

11:00 PM, Nov 2, 2002 • By BETH HENARY
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A musical endorsement of Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez by members of the Texas-based bands Asleep at the Wheel and Texas Tornadoes insists that The teachers and the farmers and the working folks agree / If you want someone in Austin who will stand for you and me / Tony is for Texas, you, and me. It's a cute ditty, but it probably won't help Sanchez against the Texas Republican juggernaut.

The GOP holds all 29 elected statewide offices in the Lone Star State--from both U.S. Senate seats to the governor to the agriculture commissioner. Although this year's ticket doesn't have George W. Bush at the top, the Texas GOP remains in good shape to repeat its sweep. Despite having spent $60 million of his own money, Tony Sanchez trails Bush successor Rick Perry by double digits in a current Dallas Morning News poll. Perry's campaign has created doubts about Sanchez's ethical standards: In one recent commercial, Perry's campaign implies that drug money laundered through Sanchez's failed savings and loan facilitated the death of a DEA agent. On a more fundamental level, Sanchez has suffered from assumptions his campaign made in its infancy, namely that a Hispanic Democrat would better represent Hispanics. On October 31, Rick Perry received endorsements from a group of Hispanic pastors, the Latino Coalition, and a Dallas-based Hispanic newspaper.

"As an organization, we always prefer to support Latino candidates," Latino Coalition president Robert G. de Posada said in a recent statement. "However, [Perry's] record of accomplishments on behalf of the Hispanic community in Texas cannot be ignored." Earlier in October the governor accepted the endorsement of former Texas attorney general Dan Morales, Sanchez's opponent in the Democratic primary. Perry seems a lock.

The Senate contest to fill retiring Republican Phil Gramm's seat is much closer, though Republican nominee and current attorney general John Cornyn has led from the start. Cornyn espouses largely traditional conservative positions on issues like affirmative action and abortion, while his opponent, former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, supports affirmative action and abortion rights. Also, they offer predictably different scenarios for how they would help President Bush deal with the shortages of judges at the circuit level.

Given the conservatism of Texas voters, Kirk appears to be a long shot.

Republican operatives suspect that the party may have trouble capturing two offices--the powerful lieutenant governor position and a state supreme court seat. The lieutenant governor in Texas is the most powerful actor in the Texas Senate, serving on the state redistricting board as well as setting the agenda for the senate and casting tie-breaking votes. This year's contest pits conservative Democrat John Sharp, a former state comptroller and 1998 candidate for lieutenant governor, against wealthy oil investor David Dewhurst, the current land commissioner. Sharp has big crossover appeal and, in the upcoming legislative session, where a looming budget crisis will be front-and-center, the former comptroller might just be the one for the job.

On the judicial front, supreme court hopeful and Austin attorney Steven Wayne Smith admits he's probably the weakest spot in the GOP ticket. Running for one of five court seats up this year, he's not without appellate experience, having filed and won the Hopwood lawsuit that abolished affirmative action in Texas university admissions. Smith, who defeated a Hispanic incumbent appointed by Governor Perry in his primary, has a confrontational style and has filed two lawsuits over the course of his campaign. One challenged restrictions on judicial speech; the other accused his opponent of libel. His effort sorely lacks funding, but he's alienated his party almost as much as he's been alienated by it.

Still, the Republican ticket might give Dewhurst and Smith the boost they need to put them over the top.

The Texas GOP isn't what it was in 1998 when it captured all the statewide prizes. Rick Perry isn't the charismatic leader George W. Bush was as governor. But the GOP is still riding the wave.

Beth Henary is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.