- The Washington Times - Monday, October 7, 2002

DALLAS The richest Democrat ever to run for Texas governor, Laredo multimillionaire Tony Sanchez, already has spent more than $60 million on the campaign yet most polls indicate he is still trailing Republican Gov. Rick Perry by five to 10 percentage points.
Some Sanchez backers say the wealthy insurance and banking magnate has vowed to spend "as much as it takes" in his first try at elective office. He has refused to comment.
"If he feels it takes [$100 million] eventually, I think he will ante it up," said Houston insurance broker Randy Moffitt.
Ray Sullivan, campaign chief for Mr. Sanchez's opponent, Mr. Perry, calls the Sanchez money onslaught "obscene" and vows his man will win and spend no more than $25 million.
The cost of this bitter, rancorous race already has more than doubled the previous record of money spent in a Texas gubernatorial campaign. The previous most-costly race was the 1990 contest between Democrat Ann Richards and Republican Clayton Williams. The latter spent about $22 million in losing.
Despite the big bucks, this year the governor's race in Texas is playing second fiddle to an all-out battle to replace the retiring Republican Sen. Phil Gramm.
The biggest question mark in that race is whether or not President Bush's coattails will be strong enough to help state Republican Attorney General John Cornyn defeat Democrat Ron Kirk.
Mr. Bush just last week praised Mr. Cornyn at a heavy-duty campaign event in Houston. In March, he did the same thing in Dallas, picking up $1.4 million for Mr. Cornyn and another $400,000 for the state Republican Party.
Several who work in the trenches claim that Mr. Bush's campaigning in Texas could make a big difference.
Rob Allyn, a Dallas media consultant who usually works for Republicans but is not involved in any Texas races this year, says Mr. Bush's personal help could spell the difference.
"Some of these races are going to stay close until two or three weeks out," said Mr. Allyn. "Then I think the president will drop the 'Bush hammer.' Once he puts the hammer down, I think there's an eight-to-12-point swing for Republicans."
While Mr. Bush's approval numbers have fluctuated nationwide, his approval ratings in Texas remain much higher than nationally.
Democrats resent Republican insinuations that Mr. Sanchez is trying to buy the governorship.
"It's his money. What's the big deal?" asked Tim Brookmeier, a Tyler salesman at a recent rally by Mr. Sanchez there. "He was completely unknown when he announced for governor. What do people expect?"
Mr. Sanchez, said to be worth hundreds of millions from an assortment of oil, gas, insurance and banking entities, has spent at least 90 percent of his campaign funding from his own pocket.
Mr. Allyn laughs at the Democrats' claim that Mr. Sanchez lacks name identification.
"They passed the name-ID barrier six months ago," he said. "Today, Tony Sanchez has greater name ID in the state than the Alamo."
From the beginning, the tone in the governor's race has been nasty, with numerous television ads making accusations and counteraccusations.
Mr. Sanchez charged that Mr. Perry had taken money from special interests, particularly the insurance industry, and then had sold Texans down the river by allowing those firms to raise costs to nearly the highest in the nation.
Mr. Perry responded that Mr. Sanchez, through a Laredo savings and loan association he controlled a decade ago, laundered millions in drug money.
In the past few days, the campaign spotlight has once again returned to the insurance situation.
Farmers Insurance Group, the state's second-largest insurer of homes, announced Wednesday that it would drop its 700,000 insured Texas homeowners because of massive losses and unfair treatment by state officials.
Mr. Perry stood on the steps of the governor's mansion and said, in effect, good riddance to Farmers, while Mr. Sanchez called the move "a devastating blow" to homeowners here and charged that the governor should have called a special legislative session to deal with what he termed a crisis.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sanchez has stepped up his TV campaign with an ad accusing Mr. Perry of accepting $1 million from insurance companies, then mismanaging the state's handling of the industry. "We didn't elect him. We don't have to keep him," the ad closes, alluding to the fact that Mr. Perry was lieutenant governor and ascended to the governorship when then-Gov. George W. Bush was elected president.
"The problem is," snapped Mr. Sullivan, "that Mr. Sanchez is the only one running for governor who is a member of the insurance industry."

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