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Election 2002

Republicans Take Lead in Top Texas Contests

November 06, 2002|Megan K. Stack | Times Staff Writer

DALLAS — Republicans appeared to have kept their grip on both the governor's mansion and a key Senate seat Tuesday as the party fought to maintain its hold on Texas government -- and keep the president's home hospitable.

Incumbent Republican Rick Perry, a plain-spoken cotton farmer from the Panhandle, was leading in his bid to stay in the governor's mansion.

Fellow Republican John Cornyn was headed to Washington after beating out Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk for a Senate seat.

Just three hours after the polling stations closed, an exuberant Perry appeared before supporters in Austin and gave a victory speech.

But his opponent, borderland oil baron Tony Sanchez, wasn't about to go down quietly. After spending nearly $70 million of his fortune on the campaign, Sanchez wasn't ready to concede.

"I am still going to give him hell until the last vote is counted," said Sanchez, who Democrats hoped would become the state's first Latino governor. "This race is a long, long, long way from being over."

With less than half the vote counted, Atty. Gen. Cornyn went ahead with a victory speech. "I want to be a senator for all Texans," said Cornyn, whose party has accused Democrats of exploiting racial and ethnic splits.

Kirk stood before weeping supporters before midnight, accompanied by his wife and mother, to acknowledge his loss.

"We didn't get into this race just to make history, but we did," said Kirk, who had hoped to become the first black senator since Reconstruction. "The state of Texas has never seen a Democratic ticket like this."

A tumultuous election day in President Bush's home state stretched into a long night of vote counting and mechanical snags. Electronic glitches left hundreds of thousands of votes in limbo in Fort Worth and surrounding Tarrant County, the state's fourth-largest county.

In Bexar County, a traditionally Democratic region anchored by San Antonio, problems with counting early votes could delay the tally until early today.

The closest of the major statewide contests was the race for lieutenant governor between Republican David Dewhurst and Democrat John Sharp. The vote was roughly split, but Dewhurst appeared to be pulling ahead.

The stakes have been high all season. Republicans held a profound advantage -- from agriculture commissioner to governor, the party held every single statewide position. Inertia was on their side, and so was the White House. Under pressure to save face by maintaining his party's clout at home, Bush had returned repeatedly to Texas for fund-raisers for his former Republican colleagues.

But the Democrats came after them hard. The party assembled the so-called Dream Team -- the black Kirk, the Latino Sanchez and the white Sharp were touted as the party's ticket back to its lost power. For years, demographers and political scientists have predicted that Texas would swing back to Democratic control thanks to a growing Latino population.

"We're definitely a comeback party," said Democratic consultant Marc Campos. "Even the fact that it'll be so close -- if that ain't a comeback, I don't know what is."

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Times researcher Lianne Hart contributed to this report.

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