Demos to fight for U.S. Senate
But it's not a completely clear field for Noriega (www.ricknoriega.com). The veteran of military service in Afghanistan has drawn another opponent: Corpus Christi public school teacher Ray McMurrey.
A teacher of history and government, and a tennis coach, McMurrey currently chairs the social sciences department at the Gates and Dell Foundation-sponsored Early College High School on the Del Mar college campus in Corpus Christi. It gives low-income students an opportunity to obtain in four or five years a high school diploma plus a two-year associate college degree.
McMurrey (mcmurreyforussenate.com) is running against the system of money in politics. He said he will take a two-month leave of absence to mount a campaign prior to the March 4 primary. He hopes to be the Democratic nominee to take on incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (www.johncornyn.com).
It is always interesting to see someone run on a platform of taking special interest money out of the election process. It's a laudable idea. The problem, however, is that it usually takes money to circulate that message.
Although the Internet's communications capabilities have leveled the political playing field somewhat, generally unless a candidate is wealthy enough to self-fund his or her campaign, or has a familiar name like Sam Houston or George Bush, it is a steep hill to climb.
Nonetheless, that's what McMurrey, 42, is attempting. McMurrey initially planned to run as an independent until he realized he'd have to collect 43,991 petition signatures of registered voters to get on the ballot (one percent of the number of votes cast for governor in the 2006 election). By contrast, he can qualify to run for the Democratic nomination with 5,000 signatures, or by paying a $5,000 filing fee.
(Noriega's campaign, though he's raised more than half a million dollars, is working to gather at least 25,000 petition signatures, to not only make sure they have enough valid ones, but to make a statement about grassroots support.)
Perhaps the best-known shoestring candidate is Victor Morales, who won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1996. Morales campaigned all over Texas in his battered white pickup truck, and beat out two sitting congressmen to win the nomination.
It didn't hurt that Morales had the same last name as then-Attorney General Dan Morales. And as the only Hispanic running, he enjoyed heavy support among Hispanic voters, who turned out heavily in the runoff that year because most of the local runoffs were in heavily Hispanic areas.
Morales got just under 44 percent in the general election that year - almost the identical percentage that then-President Bill Clinton got in Texas in his re-election effort.
McMurrey described himself as "an authentic candidate" at a recent stop in Austin, noting that Noriega works for a large energy company and has accepted campaign donations even from Houston homebuilding magnate Bob Perry. Perry, no relation to Gov. Rick Perry, has been a major funding source for many Republican candidates, and helped pay for the "Swift Boat" ads that attacked Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in the 2004 election.
"We do not win by replacing a corporate Republican with a corporate Democrat," Mc- Murrey said. Noriega, a marketing manager in Houston for CenterPoint Energy, has always recused himself from votes in the Legislature affecting his company, said campaign spokesman James Aldrete.
Before he joined the energy company, Noriega had been project manager for Communities in Schools and taught high school and junior college. A lieutenant colonel in the Texas Army National Guard, Noriega served 14 months in Afghanistan.
McMurrey charged that Noriega had supported the war in Iraq. The Noriega campaign points out that although he served in Afghanistan, and initially supported the Iraq war, he believes the Bush administration bungled the Iraq war. He has said he favors a phased withdrawal to honor the desire of most Americans to bring the troops home.
Reach McNeely at dmcneely@austin. rr.com or (512) 323-0248.