- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2001

DALLAS — Democrats, responding to rumors that the senior U.S. senator from Texas, Phil Gramm, might not be a candidate for re-election next year, are positioning themselves to make a run for his seat.

The latest rumor is that Mr. Gramm might be tapped to replace retiring Texas A&M University President Ray Bowen.

Mr. Gramm and his close aides have said unequivocally that he will run for a fourth term.

All denials aside, several Democrats seem to be leaning toward the race.

In a poll taken this summer, two popular Hispanic Democrats, former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros and one-time state Attorney General Dan Morales, emerged as clear favorites if Mr. Gramm did not run.

Since then, Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk has openly discussed his interest, even if Mr. Gramm is the Republican candidate.

A survey of 1,031 likely Democratic voters conducted June 27 to July 13 by Montgomery and Associates, an Austin polling firm, was prefaced by asking voters to assume that Mr. Gramm would not run.

Mr. Morales, a former state representative and pal of Mr. Cisneros — a Clinton administration secretary for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) — has said he plans to run, but will not if Mr. Cisneros decides to enter the race.

"Henry Cisneros can win virtually any statewide office in Texas," he said. "He would be not only a viable candidate, but I think the favorite for any office in the state of Texas."

Mr. Cisneros, founder of American City Vista, a San Antonio home-building company, generally has declined to comment. He could not be reached last week.

Mr. Morales — who some claimed had visited with Mr. Cisneros — seemed even more confident of making the race last week as he said:

"From everything I know and from all the reactions and input from friends, supporters and others, I cannot envision a scenario where I would not be a candidate for the Democratic nomination."

In the poll, Mr. Cisneros was favored by 23.8 percent, Mr. Morales by 22.9 percent and Rep. Ken Bentsen a Democrat from the Houston area by 10.5 percent.

Mr. Kirk, who finished fourth in the poll at 8.3 percent, said last week he probably would decide by Sept. 1 whether he would join the race. He is Dallas' first black mayor but cannot seek re-election because of term limits.

"The factors that are weighing most heavily in my mind are directly related to family and lifestyle and what I want to do next with my life," Mr. Kirk said. "They are not contingent on whether Senator Gramm or anyone else runs."

In the poll of Democrats, the two Hispanic candidates received the most favorable responses.

Mr. Morales, whose office spearheaded the state's $17.3 billion settlement with Big Tobacco in 1999, was severely criticized in his waning months in office for trying to funnel several million dollars to a close lawyer friend whose work on the case billed at more than $130,000 an hour — seemed minimal at best.

Mr. Morales' successor, Republican John Cornyn, fought the exorbitant fee agreement; the FBI is still investigating.

Mr. Cisneros' perjury troubles — lying about payments to a mistress and pressured to resign from his Cabinet post in 1996 heightened speculation at the time that his political future was over.

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