Election Ennui

Why the mayor's race hasn't caught fire

It hasn't been an easy election season for either Rains or his candidate. Councilman Michael Berry's short-lived campaign for mayor hammered Sanchez's skimpy professional résumé, damage that was not repaired by a pro forma endorsement by Berry after he dropped out of the race. "Sanchez had somebody beating from the right on him for six months," says a campaign source. "It's been tough. He had nobody beating on him last time."

Then White sprang a nonstop media blitz spring and has sustained it ever since through a record-setting $6 million campaign. It allowed him to introduce himself to the voters with no competition from either opponent.

According to a GOP source, Sanchez's financial prospects will not improve in a runoff, particularly against White.

As Orlando Sanchez dropped in the polls, national Republicans held back their dollars.
Daniel Kramer
As Orlando Sanchez dropped in the polls, national Republicans held back their dollars.

"The RNC made no promises to Orlando when he asked for a million, and they also said, 'If it's White [in the runoff], forget it.' The cavalry has not come, and from what I was hearing, the cavalry ain't coming."

Sylvester Turner consultant Marc Campos notes that the much-ballyhooed GOP effort to recruit and support Hispanic candidates seems to be foundering.

"They've been making this big deal about how in order for the party to grow, they've got to reach out to the Hispanic community. Here they've got an attractive candidate in Sanchez, and the Republican money guys have just abandoned him for Bill White."

Consultant Craig Varoga, who managed the winning campaigns of Bob Lanier and Brown, believes Sanchez made the mistake of running the last mayoral race over again rather than adapting to White's multimillion-dollar media barrage. He notes that some of Sanchez's stump speeches are virtually identical to those in the previous campaign, which tried to turn the race against Brown into a Republican-Democrat referendum. That's a questionable strategy in a city that traditionally votes Democratic.

"They're doing the same thing now," says Varoga. "The mistake is compounded by the fact that both [President George] Bush and [Governor Rick] Perry are less popular than they were two years ago." Varoga notes that the targeting of Sanchez's partisan attack brochures also seem to be defective, since a number of traditional Democratic neighborhoods have received the mailers, a misstep guaranteed to motivate the opposition to get to the polls on Election Day.

Sanchez narrowly lost to Brown in 2001, but that performance may have owed more to the incumbent's weaknesses than to Sanchez's strengths as a challenger.

"I think the excitement last time was 'anybody but Brown,' " says one of the veterans of that campaign. "It was like when Sylvia Garcia beat Lloyd Kelley for controller a few years back. It was more by default."

Varoga believes Sanchez and his backers thought the current campaign would simply be an extension of 2001.

"There was the illusion of it being easy because Brown was such a weak candidate," says the consultant. "What you're looking at now is a different gig."

Candidate White certainly got a different sort of campaign assist last week at Congregation Beth Israel, during services for Harry Reed, a longtime Houston Planning Commission member. Toward the end, Rabbi Brenner Glickman told the mourners at the jam-packed gathering that before Reed died of lung cancer, he expressed regrets that he wouldn't be around to find out who won the mayor's race. Glickman then relayed Reed's posthumous request to the crowd: "Please tell everyone to vote for Bill White."

It's been that kind of year for Orlando Sanchez.

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