The fractured nature of the race for Texas governor has some candidates for other offices a bit nervous and off-balance. Unless they are in strongly Republican or strongly Democratic districts, they worry whether voters will make it down the ballot to their races.
Many Texans have yet to realize there is no runoff in the governor's race. Whoever gets the most votes will be governor for the next four years, even if he or she is way short of a majority.
Meanwhile, the independent candidacies of Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton Strayhorn have jumbled things up. Usually the contest is between just the Republican (incumbent Rick Perry) and the Democrat (Chris Bell), with some token vote to a Libertarian (James Werner of Austin) or Green Party candidate (the Greens didn't qualify for the ballot).
Since most candidates down the ballot are Republicans or Democrats, there's an incentive for them to want a straight-party vote. But a legislative candidate in a swing district - that can go either Democratic or Republican in November -has to be careful.
On the one hand, he definitely wants to encourage his party's base vote to turn out. But he also must try to attract voters who want someone other than his party's candidate for governor.
In addition, voters will face two other elections above the governor's race on the ballot: U. S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (versus Democrat Barbara Ann Radnofsky of Houston, and Libertarian Scott Lanier Jameson of Plano), and one of 32 races for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Below the level of governor, before state legislative and county races, voters will encounter selections for lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, land commissioner, agriculture commissioner, Railroad Commission member, and justices for the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals.
The Republicans have controlled every statewide office since the 1998 elections. There was still some Democratic enthusiasm in 2002, when they fielded the so-called "Dream Team" of former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk for U.S. Senate, Laredo banker Tony Sanchez for governor, former Comptroller John Sharp for lieutenant governor, and former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson for attorney general.
But after they were resoundingly stomped in the first election after the 9/11 terrorist attack, Democrats got discouraged. Their 2006 slate is their weakest in years, if not in history. With at least a national pendulum appearing to swing back toward the Democrats, and Gov. Perry stuck in the mid-30s in the polls, some Yellow Dogs wish more formidable candidates like Sharp and Kirk were on the ballot. They may, too.
Those down-ballot races may not seem important; they are basically for administrative offices that are filled in many states by appointment.
But four of them plus the House Speaker handle legislative redistricting if the Legislature doesn't. Also, those offices also are the on-deck circle for the major offices in Texas. Texas' top five elected officials each held one or more lower-ballot jobs before their current position: Gov. Rick Perry (agriculture commissioner, lieutenant governor); Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (land commissioner); U.S. Sen. Hutchison (state treasurer, since abolished); U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (Texas Supreme Court, attorney general); and Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott (Texas Supreme Court).
That makes it important to bone up on their stances not just on the issues their particular offices face, but also on matters like reproductive choice, school finance and others. As we can see, yesterday's agriculture commissioner might be tomorrow's governor.
And So On. . . . Even though Sen. Hutchison and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst don't seem to be sweating re-election, look for them to drop some campaign cash on TV in the closing weeks. One or both might run for governor in 2010, and they're unlikely to pass up an opportunity to boost their name identification, not to mention their vote margin.
Reach McNeely at dmcneely@austin. rr.com or (512) 458-2963.