Bob Gammage and Chris Bell on the trail
Robert Garret writes on the Democratic primary in the Dallas Morning News:
They might be fighting for the right to come in third – or even fourth – in the race for Texas governor, but that doesn't mean Chris Bell and Bob Gammage are going through the motions.This primary fascinates me; I only wish Alvarado were still in the race. How important will it be for Bell to have spent more than a year campaigning? Will Bell and Gammage end up trying to out-liberal each other? Given the dynamics of the general election, it would seem to make sense right now for them to do so.
Rather, they're scrambling to convince voters that the race can be won by a Democrat – if not by the other guy.
They take similar positions on school finance, taxes and social issues. But that's where the similarities end.
Mr. Bell, a former congressman, pitches himself as the "candidate of the future" who has plans to lower school dropout rates and make college more affordable.
Mr. Gammage says he's "a messenger" about a state government that's in bed again with big political donors.
Mr. Bell is almost professorial in his approach, reading from handwritten notes on school-binder paper at the Alamo last week. (He has two sons in grade school.) In five minutes, he was through.
He believes he'll win because Democrats appreciate his courage for jumping into the race last February.
"I was the only one out there carrying the message about the need to continue the fight, not to give up just because 2004 wasn't a banner year for Democrats," he said.
Mr. Gammage is a dynamic speaker who says he felt compelled to run after recognizing there was no Democrat in the race with a "fire in the belly and energy in their blood."
Mr. Gammage's decision last month to run upset Mr. Bell, who had been cruising to the nomination after several big-name Democrats declined to run.
But even as Mr. Bell says the competition will probably improve his name recognition and sharpen his game, he's trained unrelenting fire on Mr. Gammage in recent days.
He says that when Mr. Gammage served a term as a Houston-area congressman in 1977-78, he cast votes against raising the minimum wage and letting Medicaid cover the costs of abortions for rape and incest victims.
"He was very much out of synch with what I consider to be Democratic values," Mr. Bell said.
Mr. Gammage responded that he cast "a lot of good votes" while in Congress, though he regrets some.
"Are you going to grade my whole political life on two years I spent in Washington?" Mr. Gammage asked. He touts his 23 years in public life, including two years as a state senator and 13 as a judge.
Mr. Gammage acknowledges having to play catch-up. He's been out of politics for more than a decade, and he got a late start. But, he says, Mr. Bell has made little headway.
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