- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2001

DALLAS The surprise announcement last month by Texas Sen. Phil Gramm that he would not seek re-election next year has sent many politicians up and down the ballot scurrying for position.
The fallout has begun, with some changing their minds and switching races. Others are still playing coy about their plans. Most of the statewide races likely will be hotly contested, and a Hispanic or black could replace Mr. Gramm.
Republican state Attorney General John Cornyn has already announced for the Senate race. Two Republican congressmen, Joe Barton of Ennis and Henry Bonilla of San Antonio, say they will decide by the end of this week.
On the Democratic side, Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who is black, is the early favorite, although he has not officially entered the race. Two Democrats who were beaten in previous Senate races, Richard Fisher and Victor Morales, have said they are considering the run. Ed Cunningham, an Austin lawyer, has announced, and former Attorney General Dan Morales has vowed to become a candidate within weeks.
Henry Cisneros, former San Antonio mayor and Clinton administration HUD director, has been mentioned, but insiders claim Mr. Cisneros has assured Mr. Morales he will not enter.
Some Republicans, afraid their eventual statewide slate will include no minorities, have been working behind the scenes to pump up the candidacy of Mr. Bonilla, though they concede Mr. Cornyn has important and financially strong backing.
Gov. Rick Perry, who replaced George W. Bush when Mr. Bush became president, seems a shoo-in for the Republican nomination for governor. Tony Sanchez, a wealthy banker-rancher from Laredo, seems the strong bet to oppose Mr. Perry.
Marble Falls lawyer and former University of Texas All-American football quarterback Marty Akins announced against Mr. Sanchez, but a few days ago influential Democrats convinced him he should not "water down" the Sanchez candidacy by setting up an expensive primary race. Mr. Akins now has endorsed Mr. Sanchez and announced for state comptroller. He will apparently oppose the present comptroller, Republican Carole Keeton Rylander, who plans to seek re-election.
Mr. Cornyn's decision to seek Mr. Gramm's seat apparently stymied plans by state land commissioner David Dewhurst to run for the Senate. Mr. Dewhurst, one of the wealthiest Texas politicians, has spent a reported $3 million on his announced run for lieutenant governor. After saying he was considering the Senate race, he decided to remain in the lieutenant governor's race. Former state Supreme Court Justice Greg Abbott, who had announced for lieutenant governor and was seen to be running far behind Mr. Dewhurst, opted out and decided to run for Mr. Cornyn's job as attorney general.
Political watchers in Texas claim they cannot recall such a game of musical chairs at least not in decades.
Democrats seem somewhat invigorated, despite the fact Republicans hold all 29 of the statewide offices. The key, most claim, is Mr. Sanchez. Not only will he be trying to become the first Hispanic ever to win the statehouse, but it is expected he will spend part of his personal wealth of $600 million to help Democrats up and down the slate. If either Mr. Kirk or Mr. Morales were to win the expected Senate primary, that would mean that two minority candidates would top the Democratic ticket.
Republicans seem likely to have Mr. Cornyn, Mr. Perry and Mr. Dewhurst all white leading their ticket. So the burgeoning Hispanic vote could be the deciding factor. Hispanics now account for about one-third of voting-age Texans.
Mr. Sanchez, already operating with several key aides in his Laredo headquarters, says he has targeted 1.3 million Hispanics who are of voting age and have not registered, plus another million who are registered but generally do not vote. "It will be interesting how [Hispanics] will react and how hard they will work," said Gale Harrison, a San Antonio pollster. "The fact Tony Sanchez might be their first governor ever, well that might be a strong rallying cry."
Mr. Kirk, a popular two-term Dallas mayor, has not entered the Senate race, but there is little doubt he will. He had strongly leaned toward running, even before Mr. Gramm opted out. A charismatic, articulate man, Mr. Kirk does not have statewide name recognition, but Thursday he named an "exploratory committee" a list of 100 supporters that included three former governors, dozens of elected officials and a star-studded list of business leaders.

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