Welcome to Election '08!

The GOP test-drives next year's talking points for the press.

So the 2008 elections in Texas have officially begun.

It was supposed to start last Thursday, with Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, announcing his intention to think about taking Sen. John Cornyn's seat off him. But he had to re-schedule, so as not to be holding a press conference the day after Lady Bird Johnson died. So it was going to be this morning instead – but that thunder got stolen by the the GOP beginning a very early "get out the vote" campaign.

Over at the Omni Hotel, Gov. Rick Perry and Cornyn were launching the statewide Republican election campaign/fundraising exercise, Victory 2008. Or Victory '08, or Victory in '08, depending who you ask, which is probably causing the GOP's election analysts to have kittens. If the party head honchos have so little message discipline (as the pollsters and campaign managers put it) that they can't get the name exactly right, that doesn't bode well for the rest of the campaign.

It was scarcely an ebullient exercise. In one of the smaller conference rooms in the Omni, to a crowd that was mostly party operatives, Perry announced that his former secretary of state Roger Williams will head up the fundraising and grass-roots campaign (everyone had been wondering why he'd quit in June, and the rumors that he was seeking office seemed a bit premature.) They'd be targeting traditional conservative values and traditional conservative voters and make a traditional conservative grassroots campaign. So, no shockers there.

But there was a tacit admission this will be a hard campaign: Three million new voters, many from out of state, who may not be hardcore Republicans and would need winning over. Hispanic voters who might not be very interested in backing the Republican immigration policy. Of course, no-one was churlish enough to mention Iraq, but even Cornyn was commenting that the GOP had never really treated Texas as a state that needed a big investment of time and money – an implicit statement that now it may be "in play".

Then there's the lack of pizzazz. It's always said by campaign gurus that a good candidate needs a little bit of Elvis, and it seemed fairly missing today. (More than one hack noted that it had all the woo-hoo factor of Chris Bell's abortive campaign for governor last year.) And then there was the thought of who wasn't there – not just the state officials were AWOL, but the heavy hitters that had shaped so many Republican campaigns in recent years. No Rove, no DeLay, the heavy-hitters that put real fire in the fundraising belly. Fair enough – Williams is no noob, having been a cash-gatherer and grassroots planter for every major Texas campaign in a decade and a half, but there's a question of where the big motivators and big visionaries may be. Plus the bad news that, in the presidential primary race, the GOP is currently trailing the Democrats by $30 million.

Perry then headed back to the Capitol for his next photo op – signing off on the Texas version of Jessica's law (because, in its current incarnation, execution is a core Conservative value). The press corps, many of whom had attended the Victory 2008 launch, walked across 11th street to the Capitol and stood in the Governor's reception room. There was Perry, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and bill sponsor Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, who turned up with her mother and grandson for one of the weirdest family photos ever. Perry signed the bill (pausing for the cameras), then disappeared. Dewhurst wandered out into the hall with Mark Lunsford, Jessica Lunsford's father, for a press conference, and never stood more than a foot from the still-grieving father – thus avoiding any tough questions.

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