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Electoral Battles Heat Up in Texas

A couple of big political battles are taking shape in President Bush's home state of Texas, as the November 5 election day draws nearer. The outcome of the senate race there could have an effect on the president's ability to move his agenda through Congress.

Everything is big in Texas, as the saying goes and that seems to apply to the money spent on political campaigns. Candidates are spending tens of millions of dollars this year and will likely spend even more before it is over. Money spent, however, does not always determine who wins.

In the senate race, Democrat and former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk is out-spending his Republican rival, current state Attorney General John Cornyn, but the two remain locked in a close race, according to the polls.

This race has national implications for several reasons. For one thing, a victory for the Democrats would help the party maintain control of the U.S. Senate. It would also be a strong symbolic victory for the opposition party, in the president's own state. A victory for Mr. Kirk, who is black, would additionally be a significant gain for African-Americans in the legislative body.

For this reason, John Williams, who covers politics for the Houston Chronicle newspaper, says this race, in particular, has drawn national attention. "He would be the third African-American in the U.S. Senate and the first from a southern state like Texas," he noted. "So, the national political observers are watching this race with great interest, expecting Ron Kirk to get a wonderful spotlight in the Senate if he is elected."

The other important race in Texas involves the office President Bush left behind. Democrat Tony Sanchez, a Laredo banker, has already spent more than $30 million in an effort to win the governor's seat from incumbent Rick Perry. Mr. Perry, a Republican, took over the job nearly two years ago when George W. Bush left to become president of the United States.

Mr. Williams says both men are trying to attack weaknesses they see in their rival. "Rick Perry has been running ads and talking about Tony Sanchez's financial background," said Mr. Williams. "Tony Sanchez ran a Savings and Loan company near the border that had some drug problems. They were caught laundering money. Sanchez says he did not know anything about it, but Perry wants to keep that up in the forefront. Sanchez, on the other hand, will point out that since he came to office Rick Perry has not done much. He wants to remind voters that Rick Perry was not elected, that he ascended to that position after George Bush became president."

So far, Governor Perry has a comfortable lead in the polls, but John Williams says much will depend on how successful Mr. Sanchez is in using advertising to attract undecided voters and in getting fellow Hispanics to vote for him. Mr. Sanchez is the first Hispanic to run for governor with statewide support on a major party ticket. He is also very wealthy and expects to spend more than $60 million of his own money before the election is over. In the weeks ahead, the poll results could narrow and the contest over the office President Bush left behind could become much more heated.