- The Washington Times - Monday, April 8, 2002

DALLAS Can a soft-spoken schoolteacher from east Texas with hardly enough money for a single 30-second spot or a professional poll beat an articulate former big-city mayor who has millions and is buffeting the airwaves all over the state?
The smart money says no.
Dreamers ask, "Why not?"
The question will be answered tomorrow when Victor Morales and Ron Kirk face a showdown to determine the Democratic choice to run for the Senate seat being vacated in January by Republican Phil Gramm.
Mr. Morales, an upstart who lost to Mr. Gramm by less than 10 percentage points six years ago after being outspent by more than 25-to-1, led the primary last month by beating Mr. Kirk and U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen.
He spent less than $10,000 while Mr. Kirk and Mr. Bentsen, between them, poured more than $2 million into the fray, with the endorsements of most of the state's newspapers and virtually all the party leaders.
But on March 12 it was Mr. Morales, a geography teacher and coach at tiny Kemp High School, an hour's drive east of here, who again stole the show.
"If he had been able to campaign like the others, he would have won the primary in a breeze," said Sam Hodges, a Tyler store manager who said he voted for Mr. Morales. Mr. Hodges was alluding to the fact that Mr. Morales unable to quit his full-time job was forced to campaign only on weekends and a few nights here and there.
Though Mr. Kirk, Dallas' first-ever black mayor, is extremely intelligent, politically savvy and more strongly supported than any Democratic candidate for this office in decades, he is well aware that he is in a real horserace.
Last week Mr. Kirk said he felt winning the party's nomination might be harder than beating the Republican candidate, John Cornyn, in November.
"I honestly believe the toughest battle is to get me through this runoff," he said. "The reality is, in a Democratic primary somebody with a name like Victor Morales with the extraordinary activity in competitive local races that are going on in the [Rio Grande] Valley is going to do well. He's got a baseline that I have to overcome."
Indeed, there seems to be something almost magical about Mr. Morales.
He isn't always conversant on proposed legislation, says he has not formed opinions on some important issues and has only a handful of volunteers helping him, but he has definitely capitalized on his "everyman" posturing.
Mr. Morales has ridiculed Mr. Kirk's more than two dozen paid staffers, his hundreds of TV spots and even Mr. Kirk's middle-class upbringing. He has also spoken with disdain about Mr. Kirk's "special deal" with a leading Dallas law firm (where Mr. Kirk is paid more than $200,000 a year for virtually no work) and about Mr. Kirk's lobbying, particularly for tobacco interests.
Some admire his windmill-tilting persona; others aren't so impressed.
"He makes a good point that Kirk is bought and paid for by the big money in Texas," Arvid McFarland said on a local radio talk show program last week. "If Victor makes it, he will be indebted to nobody."


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