- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2002

DALLAS Former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales needs to deliver a knockout blow against his opponent, Tony Sanchez, during Friday night's historic television debate in order to have a chance to capture the Democratic nomination for governor.
The Democratic gubernatorial candidates will face each other on Dallas' PBS affiliate, KERA-TV, for an hour in English, then an additional hour in Spanish. This is the first time a lengthy political debate will be staged in Spanish in the United States at least in a major race.
The feed will go to stations in virtually every Texas city radio and television.
The governor's race, in which for the first time two Hispanic candidates battle for the state's highest office, has turned nasty in recent weeks.
Most recent polls show Mr. Sanchez, a Laredo banker and businessman leading by six to 10 points over Mr. Morales, the former two-term attorney general.
Unless Mr. Morales handily defeats his opponent in the only television debate scheduled during the primary campaign, Mr. Sanchez's heavy financial advantage will likely vault him past the March 12 primary and into a battle with Gov. Rick Perry, the Republican gubernatorial candidate.
Mr. Perry has no serious primary opponent and has done little campaigning.
Mr. Sanchez so far has spent more than $5 million on a statewide television ad campaign.
Mr. Morales, who has been unable to match his opponent's financial resources, has launched a series of personal attacks against Mr. Sanchez. The former attorney general has accused Mr. Sanchez of illegal drug-money laundering at his Laredo bank and of lacking the expertise to deal with the major issues facing Texas voters.
Mr. Morales, who surprisingly jumped into the governor's race minutes before the filing deadline after telling many of his supporters he planned to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Phil Gramm, has demanded several debates with his opponent. But Mr. Sanchez has refused.
The upcoming debate almost got scuttled as Mr. Sanchez became angered by the negative tone of the Morales campaign. But the Laredo businessman reconsidered his decision to pull out and the debate was rescheduled.
Jim Moore, a spokesman for the Morales campaign, said public pressure had forced Mr. Sanchez to reconsider.
"It's clear that the trial balloon they floated to not debate has blown up in their faces," Mr. Moore said, adding:
"With newspapers editorializing against them and reporters writing critical stories, Mr. Sanchez and his handlers came to the obvious conclusion that you not only have to buy television advertising, but also debate the issues."
Several media outlets did editorialize that Mr. Sanchez owed it to the public to discuss the issues in an open forum.
"People need the opportunity to see the guy operate in an unscripted forum, under a little pressure, to see who he is," said Bruce Buchanan, who teaches political science at the University of Texas in Austin.
"Mr. Sanchez has been trying to hide for the last few days," said Mr. Morales just before the television debate was finalized on Wednesday. "He needs to come before the people of Texas and defend his record and outline priorities."
Mr. Sanchez began the race with very little name identification, hardly known outside the Rio Grande Valley and Austin, where he had once served as a legislative aide. However, his wealth and willingness to dip into his personal finances has propelled his candidacy and put him strongly ahead of Mr. Morales.
Some say the negative tone of the race has eroded the pride many Hispanics originally felt in having two Hispanic candidates vying for governor for the first time in the state's history.
"It's a tragedy," Andy Hernandez, former president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, told the San Antonio Express-News.
"The political discourse could have been lifted with these two candidacies," he said.


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