Whack-a-Pol: The Finals

Stick and Baxter – and Mrs. Baxter! – get nasty in the House races

State Reps. Todd Baxter and Jack Stick of Austin entered the final leg of their re-election bids without the luxury of measurable distance between them and their Democratic challengers. To that end, Kelly White and Mark Strama, challenging Baxter and Stick respectively, continued their get-out-the-vote efforts to overcome the advantage of incumbency.

"The single most important thing for Democrats now is to turn out the base vote and the new registrants," said Kelly Fero, a chief strategist for the state party's Take Back Texas effort. That extra push could bode well for Strama in District 50, which has at least 2,000 newly registered voters. "The advantage Strama has is that independents and even moderate Republicans are voting against Bush," Fero said, adding that even some GOP leaders have (privately) conceded that Stick's standing is tenuous at best.

Stick has rolled out a campaign ad that erroneously informs viewers that Strama is under "criminal investigation" for failing to report that his brother Keith Strama is a lobbyist. No such investigation exists; rather, Travis Co. GOP Chair Alan Sager has filed a criminal complaint claiming that Strama deliberately withheld the information on his financial statements. "It's political folly," Strama said. "Anyone can file a criminal complaint – I could file one against Stick for tying his shoes and chewing gum." Stick should be more concerned about his own ties to the insurance lobby, Strama said, referring to his opponent's well-publicized pitch for campaign dollars at a meeting of insurance representatives. "Lobbyists aren't the problem – it's politicians who let lobbyists tell them what to do."

Things are equally contentious in District 48, where Baxter and White have replaced their positive, issue-oriented ads with airwave attacks on the other's record. The incumbent's wife, Courtney Baxter, even jumped into the fray with an e-mail dubbing White a "lying male-hating liberal." The widely forwarded message found its way to a choice spot in the Statesman, to the Democrats' glee. "The Courtney Baxter e-mail was devastating because it underscored a perception of intolerance that has developed about her husband in this campaign," Fero said. "Courtney's e-mail confirmed that suspicion of intolerance and arrogance among many voters just as they were heading to the polls."

Both Baxters are reacting strongly to a White campaign ad that links the freshman rep to Tom DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee, which prosecutors believe laundered illegal corporate money to fatten the 2002 war chests of several candidates – Baxter and Stick included. Baxter counters with an ad accusing White of accepting an illegal "in-kind" contribution from Treaty Oak Financial Holdings Inc., from whom the White campaign is subletting its space on Bee Caves Road. A complaint filed with the Texas Ethics Commission accuses the White campaign of violating state law by renting the space for just $8.98 per square foot. White campaign spokesman Robert Jones noted that the office is less than 800 square feet – complete with damaged walls and other wear and tear – and that two independent brokers have agreed the campaign is not getting a cut-rate deal on the rent. "The complaint is totally bogus," Jones said. "Everybody is getting fair-market value in this deal."

Down south, meanwhile, state Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, continued on course with what most people believe will be his re-election victory over opponent Alan Askew in District 45. The GOP newcomer has mounted a high-dollar yet lackluster effort to unseat Rose in a conservative swing district that also includes Blanco and Caldwell counties.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Election 2004, Todd Baxter, Jack Stick, Mark Strama, Take Back Texas, Kelly White, Robert Jones, Patrick Rose, Alan Askew, Tom DeLay

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