Dream Team or Bad Dream?

Democrats sift pre-election portents for the answer

According to McClung, "There's plenty of target. I don't think we're going to turn the world upside down, but I think we're in the range to win some elections. And it's going to be largely because we got a better turnout in the Hispanic world."

The benchmark Democrats are counting on is the 1998 midterm election results, when Democrat Paul Hobby came within 20,000 votes of defeating Carole Keeton Rylander for comptroller and Sharp lost to Perry in the lieutenant governor contest by 70,000. Democratic strategists believe an uptick in the Hispanic vote by as little as 5 percent can make the latest statewide contests winnable.

Houston State Rep Garnet Coleman is the Harris County chair of Team Texas, the coordinated Democratic campaign. He estimates more than $500,000 will be spent -- much of it Sanchez money -- on early voting and community outreach efforts in the Houston area. One aim is to reach likely Democratic voters who live outside traditional ethnic communities.

Who's that girl? Congresswoman Lee wedges herself between dream-teamers Sharp (far left) and Sanchez.
Tim Fleck
Who's that girl? Congresswoman Lee wedges herself between dream-teamers Sharp (far left) and Sanchez.

"The difference is looking at infrequent voters who have not been touched by a campaign physically," explains Coleman. "They watch TV, listen to the radio and are energized by the media. That's something we've changed across the board in our field programs: reaching into the new Houston."

Election Day get-out-the-vote techniques that helped Mayor Lee Brown edge out Orlando Sanchez in last year's mayoral runoff also will be employed for the first time in a midterm election here. Rows of gassed-up white vans, similar to the armada that scoured the city for Brown, sit in a parking lot on downtown's east side, awaiting deployment.

"A lot of what was done in the Brown effort is being done now, everything from door-to-door to vans and sound systems," says consultant Marc Campos, who is handling logistics for the effort. "I've been around Democratic Party general elections since 1972, and I've never seen anything like this."

All of which makes the stakes riding on the Dream Team that much higher. If Democrats have nothing to show for all that effort and organization on Tuesday night, it's going to be awfully difficult to find future candidates who'll throw away their treasure running under the party banner. Even if Sharp wins his race, there's likely to be the suspicion among minorities that they got used by an Anglo who really ran as Republican Lite.

Democratic consultant and lobbyist George Strongopines that the Dream Team will go down in history as a success if the party maintains its control of the state House speakership, Sharp becomes lieutenant governor and some down-ballot races go to the Democrats. He agrees even those results might leave a residue of bitterness among Hispanic and black organizers.

"They'll say, 'Hey, we did our part, what happened to the yellow dogs?' " says Strong, using a term referring to the blue-collar Anglo wing of the party.

Our election night advice: Pick your victory party itinerary carefully, and please don't mix the antidepressants with the champagne.

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