The idea that the presumed nomination of John McCain has ended internal rifts in the Republican Party was dealt a blow Monday for presuming the nomination fight is over when leading members of the religious right in Texas came out for Gov. Mike Huckabee and against the "Republican aristocracy." The new Texans for Conservative Principles PAC held four synchronized press conferences around the state (in San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, and Austin), pledging its support to Huckabee and reinforcing his reputation as the preferred nominee of religious conservatives. This came as a Texas Credit Union League poll put Huckabee and McCain in a statistical tie among likely primary voters. Speakers included Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton; two-time Southern Baptist Convention Chair Jimmy Draper in Dallas; Vision America founder Rick Scarborough; and former Christian Coalition National Field Director Dave Welch in Houston. "The PAC believes that not all these small-c conservative principles are equal," Rob Hurlburt of Kingdom Activists' TakeUp.org told the crowd in Austin. First and foremost, he said, was the right to life, and only Huckabee passed muster on this test. In front of the Governor's Mansion, he and other speakers attacked Gov. Rick Perry and Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison for treating the McCain nomination as a done deal. While Hurlburt stressed he expected the party to coalesce around the eventual GOP candidate, the group also sent a warning to the party that the struggle back to the right will not end if McCain takes the nomination. "I feel like I'm in a time warp," said former state Rep. Rick Green, comparing this year's primary to 1976, when underdog Ronald Reagan almost derailed the nomination of President Gerald Ford after a pivotal victory in Texas. "Ford went on to win the nomination by a handful of votes and then lose to Carter," Green said. "But I would contend that it was from the rubble of the Ford and Carter years that the Reagan revolution would rise." – R.W.
In their final meeting before early voting, rival Democratic House District 46 candidates Rep. Dawnna Dukes and challenger Brian Thompson sparred over lunch at the Central Texas Democratic Forum on Monday. In their opening speeches, the two laid out their platforms: Thompson again portrayed the primary as a fight against Speaker Tom Craddick, while Dukes laid out her family's historic connection to the district. But any aura of conviviality evaporated when Dukes supporter Angie Barrientos asked Thompson whether he had ever voted in an eastern Travis Co. primary before. Thompson replied that, as a newcomer to the district, he hadn't, but he also hadn't voted to support Craddick. Dukes faced her own tough questions when asked whether she thought Craddick had done a good job, and she reiterated her statement that she had yet to decide which potential speaker candidate she might support. By comparison, 353rd District Court judge candidates Scott Ozmun and Madeleine Connor were cordial, with Connor acknowledging her rival's experience by saying her friends had told her, "You're crazy to run against God." – R.W.
In a meeting with the media last week, Travis Co. clerk (and director of elections) Dana DeBeauvoir predicted the huge interest in this year's Democratic presidential race would produce an equally huge turnout at the polls: "I feel like we're running ahead of an avalanche," she said. Get ready, Dana – the snow just broke loose. The first day of early voting on Tuesday saw 7,398 voters at the polls in Travis County, plus 671 more ballots by mail. That's 1.45% of the county's 556,939 registered voters – a whopping number for the first day of a primary. "It looks like in comparison to the 2004 presidential primary, this is about five times as much," said Elections Division spokeswoman Mary Fero. The first day of that election's early voting was 1,625. This just reinforces DeBeauvoir's plea to vote early – if this many people are already voting, turnout on election day (March 4) could be crazy, with long lines and frustrating delays, so do yourself a favor and get it over with now. Early voting runs through Feb. 29. For a list of early voting locations, see p.6. – L.N.
While policy wonks statewide have gone through the first four of the five stages of grieving over the fact they won't get a seat at the Clinton-Obama debate (there was a lot of bargaining), they're now accepting that they'll have to watch it on TV like everyone else. There will be a handful of organized watching parties open to the public:
Texas Democratic Party watch party: Hyatt Regency Austin, 208 Barton Springs Rd., 6:30pm. Tickets $50, $35 for Texas Majority Builders (sold out).
Keep Austin Blue candidate-neutral watch party: Mother Egan's Irish Pub, 715 W. Sixth, 6.30pm.
Texans for Obama rally and watch party: Scholz Garten/Saengerrunde Hall, 1607 San Jacinto, 5pm.
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