Primary Election Night: A Roundup

Statewide: Looking to November

"We won!" declared Tony Sanchez at 10pm, for the benefit of the nightly news as well as hundreds of jubilant supporters partying in the Hyatt Regency ballroom. The operative word this evening was euphoria, as Joe "King" Carrasco and his band serenaded a crowd of Sanchez Democrats juiced by early returns that showed their candidate leading by a steady 2 to 1 margin. As Sanchez spoke, the television screens beside him recorded a 60% to 33% lead over Dan Morales with 39% of the votes counted, and those numbers held through the next hour. Sanchez congratulated his opponent for a "vigorous and determined" campaign, and at 11:30, Morales conceded and threw his own support to the Democratic ticket.

It was not so friendly earlier in the day, when Morales blamed confusion in several San Antonio precincts (missing judges, consolidated polls) on a conspiracy by Sanchez and his party supporters (reportedly he called the situation "worse than Florida"). Sanchez scoffed at the charges -- and by the 10pm news, the primary was already forgotten and the general election had begun. Flanked by his family, Sanchez gave his best stump speech yet, attacking the "absentee" governor Rick Perry, and saying it is "time for the governor to do more than rest on the laurels and accomplishments of his predecessor." He returned to the themes of his campaign: education, health care, public safety, and jobs. Earlier, Sanchez told reporters he intends to "spend what it will take to win" -- considering the potential Republican bankroll, it should be a very good year for ad agencies and political consultants.

The outcome was less clear in the Democratic U.S. Senate race, where Sanchez's South Texas coat-tails delivered an obvious boost to maverick schoolteacher Victor Morales, leaving experienced pols Ron Kirk and Ken Bentsen dueling for second place. At midnight, that pending runoff was still too close to call, although Kirk had surged a few points ahead (32%) of Bentsen (27%) on the strength of very strong Dallas boxes. But Harris and Bexar counties were still uncounted by midnight, so it will be a long night before that race is decided. The winners will meet April 9 for the right to oppose John Cornyn, who handily defeated his handful of GOP opponents. "We've accomplished one half of the Dream Ticket," said Austin state Rep. Elliott Naishtat. "The addition of Ron Kirk would complete that accomplishment."

Downballot for the Dems there were few surprises. Sherry Boyle easily defeated Paul Looney for the Dem nomination for Railroad Commissioner, while David Bernsen (Land Commissioner) and Tom Ramsay (Ag Commissioner) held off lesser-known and lesser-funded challengers. Only in the Court of Criminal Appeals race (Place 2) was there a minor upset: Pat Montgomery of San Antonio handily defeated Julius Whittier of Dallas.

At the Hyatt, the elixir of victory was a heady brew. "I feel very strongly that Sanchez will be the kind of candidate that can carry a whole ticket to victory," said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo. "This is Day One in the general election campaign."

"I'm just ecstatic," echoed state Rep. Dawnna Dukes of Austin. "The whole dynamic of the campaign is changed with Tony Sanchez at the head of the ticket . For the first time in a long time, we've got a strong ticket that is also solidly funded, just like the Republicans."

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