EL PASO, Texas -- - Tony Sanchez, Democratic candidate for governor of Texas, made an effective speech at the state convention here. Some of you may not recognize this as a "STOP THE PRESSES!" moment, but that's because life has not forced you to listen to his previous efforts. Entire audiences have been stunned into immobility by the awesome mediocrity of Early Sanchez Oratory. Congratulations to the voice coach, the drama coach, the speechwriters and the candidate -- it's clear they've all been working hard.

It was a peppy crowd of Democrats whooping it up in Sun City -- evidence that they think have a shot at the statewide offices this year. The D's appear to be way more revved up than the R's were in Dallas a week earlier, though sometimes it's hard to compare the parties -- since R's, on the whole, spend more time at prayer breakfasts, while the D's drink more beer. The D's Irish-American Caucus met daily when the bar opened.

The D's were quick to jump on Sen. Phil Gramm's bad line about how diversity on the Dem ticket is "trying to divide us by race." So the alternative is the all-white ticket so we (SET ITAL) won't (END ITAL) be divided by race? The Republican Senate candidate John Cornyn made the mistake of endorsing Gramm's sentiments at a fund-raiser in Washington, D.C. This is the man who said he wanted to "keep race out of the campaign."

The Texas Observer came up with an amusing factoid -- in high school in 1968, Cornyn headed the student George Wallace for President group. Of course we should all be forgiven for high school, but we'll certainly be watching to see how he keeps race out of this campaign.

The D's Senate candidate Mayor Ron Kirk of Dallas is a political natural: The fact that he had the partisan crowd on their feet repeatedly is less newsworthy than the Sanchez effort simply because everybody already knew Kirk could do it.

Hell of a pass when you have to go to a Republican convention to find a good political fight in Texas anymore. I hate unity and harmony. Fortunately, the Hispanic caucus got into a titanic battle and took an hour to select a temporary chair so they could vote on whom they wanted for party vice chair. Juan Maldonado won, mostly 'cause he's from the Valley, and the half of the El Paso delegation that's really mad at the other half wouldn't vote for the other half's guy. Texas Hispanic politics is sort of like the restaurant business -- a lot of it is location, location, location.

Sanchez went after Gov. Goodhair Perry with both hands on the corruption issue. At the R's convention, Perry had declared -- referring to Sanchez's millions -- "The governor's office is not for sale."

"It's not for sale because it's already been sold," replied Sanchez.

-- "The HMOs wanted to kill prompt pay for doctors and your medical payments. So they gave Perry $200,000, and he sold us out."

-- "The big insurance companies want to raise your insurance premiums. So they gave him $766,000, and he sold us out, and our premiums are going up."

-- "The giant utility companies want to raise our electric bills. So they gave him $500,000, and he sold us out, and our utility rates are going up. ... He has demonstrated that he has experience -- experience that money can buy. My friends, we didn't elect him, we don't have to keep him."

Perry collected $1.2 million in campaign contributions from special interests during the 20 days he had to decide on whether to sign or veto bills. At the end of it, he unleashed the blizzard of vetoes that wiped out the legislation the interests didn't want. That's fairly astonishing, even by Texas standards.

Sanchez is running by the book -- education is his issue -- and one line that got a huge response was, "Our teachers will not be forced to 'teach to the test.' ... We're going to free teachers to teach." Could be a sleeper issue there. For fans of irony, the Sanchez campaign is heaven -- the exact reverse of the usual D versus R fight in Texas -- a businessman running against "a professional politician." Sanchez actually used the line, "I know what it is to meet a payroll."

In other convention news, Sherry Boyle, a down-ballot candidate for Railroad Commission, sure impressed a lot of people ... John Sharp had Ann Richards speak at his convention party and forgot Rule No. 1 of Democratic politics -- never follow Ann Richards ... Sputnik, the biker organizer, and his caucus put on a great motorcycle parade ... Ron Kirk is rumored to be raising serious money. So is Cornyn, of course. The theory is that the Bush administration will fight hard for Cornyn because it needs the seat to regain the Senate, but they really don't care that much about Gov. Perry ... On Karl Rove's "slipped disk," the computer disk found by a Democratic staffer, Texas is rated a toss-up. Oh boy, a fun fall.

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