Sharp says he has best chance
At a rah-rah gathering hosted by Sharp, complete with fireworks and a band, Sharp said running for statewide office several times gives him a considerable head start over candidates who haven’t.
By that, he means Houston Mayor Bill White, the other prominent Democrat who hopes to win the remainder of Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat in the U.S. Senate. Although White served as chairman of the Texas Democratic Party in the mid-1990s, he has never run for a statewide public office. That said, he’s well known to about a fourth of Texans due to the Houston television market including them.
“This is a weird election,” Sharp told the Austin crowd, which included a handful of former Texas House members who had served with him, plus dozens of Sharp’s employees when he was state comptroller. “We don’t know when it’s going to be.”
That’s because Hutchison, who’s challenging Gov. Rick Perry in the March 2 Republican primary, has said she’ll resign her seat, possibly in October or November. But she hasn’t said definitely when that will be.
When and if the resignation occurs – Perry still says he’s not convinced Hutchison will run against him -- the governor will appoint an interim successor to serve until a special election set by the governor determines who will serve the remainder of Hutchison’s term, through 2012.
Several intelligent, knowledgeable people have asked whether Sharp, or White, can win the Democratic primary. Folks, remember, it’s a special election -- different rules than a regular election.
There is no primary, Democrat or Republican. In a special election, all candidates are listed on the same ballot, regardless of party. If no one wins a majority, the top two candidates – regardless of party – have a runoff.
No one but Hutchison knows when a vacancy will occur. And no one but Perry knows whether he will call the election as soon as possible, or later.
The election could be on May 8, the first uniform election date. Or, if Perry declares it an emergency, Sharp said the election could be as soon as 37 days after Hutchison’s resignation. If that occurs, it will be hard for someone who’s never run statewide before to develop enough momentum, he said.
“Fortunately, I’ve run a few elections in Texas,” Sharp drawled. He’s been on statewide ballots in five separate election years from 1986 through 2002, and said he already has organizations in counties all across Texas.
He also said that in 1998, when he ran for lieutenant governor against then-Agriculture Commissioner Perry, he came within one percentage point of winning, even while George W. Bush at the top of the GOP ticket won by a much larger margin.
(Actually, Perry won by closer to two percent: 50.04 percent, or 1,858,837 votes, to Sharp’s 48.19 percent, or 1,790,106 votes – a margin of 1.85 percent, or 68,731 votes. A Libertarian got 1.75 percent, or 65,150 votes. Bush, with 2,550,821 outpolled Perry by 691,984 votes.)
“Ninety-something percent of the Independents in this state voted for me,” Sharp said.
That’s another thing he’s counting on in a presumably low-turnout special election. He believes he can attract a lot of independents, and even a respectable number of Republicans.
In the last special senate election, in 1993, 2,045,759 voted. Hutchison led 23 other candidates, including interim appointee, Democrat Bob Krueger, and two Republican members of Congress.
She narrowly led, with 593,338 votes, for 29.00 percent. Krueger, who had been appointed by then- Gov. Ann Richards, trailed by just 99 votes. He got 28.99 percent.
That special election was uncharacteristically well-attended, because also on the ballot was a controversial constitutional amendment proposition to redistribute local property taxes for education to satisfy a federal court. The so-called “Robin Hood” system was voted down by a 63-37 percent ratio.
In the runoff a month later, 1,765,254 voted. Hutchison won by a 63-37 margin.
Sharp finished his brief talk by showing his blue bumper sticker with white print that has a large SHARP over a smaller SENATOR.
“If you put ‘em on your pickup or your car,” Sharp said, “it’ll improve your gas mileage 15 percent.”
Republicans interested in the senate seat include Railroad Commissioners Michael Williams of Arlington and Elizabeth Ames Jones of San Antonio; former Secretary of State and Weatherford auto dealer Roger Williams; state Sen. Florence Shapiro of Plano; U.S. Rep. Joe Barton of Arlington (who ran in 1993 when Hutchison won); Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (who announced Tuesday that he’ll seek re-election, but that doesn’t foreclose a race for the senate).
Another Democrat is Alma Aguado of San Antonio, a doctor of internal medicine.