AUSTIN, Texas -- Chris Bell for governor! I know, I know, it's stop the presses, Ivins favors Democrat! But the Kinky Friedman candidacy is worn thin and no fun. Besides, we actually have a good chance to get Rick Perry out of office. After six years in office, the Coiffure is so little loved he's pulling only 35 percent of likely voters. He gets another four years, I don't think we'll have a public school system left -- he really does intend to destroy it, at far-right GOP donor Jim Leininger's bidding, you know. We may never again get a chance to do our state such a great service. This could be the Alamo of elections.

For those, like me, who believe in music and laughter in politics, Kinky Friedman appeared to be a natural -- and besides, how hard can it be?

It turns out, a little harder than Kinky is willing to make an effort to go. In an excruciating interview with the Dallas Morning News, Friedman not only got about half his facts wrong (this is why we accuse Bush of misleading people), but also demonstrated that he does not understand school finance or taxes, nor does he have any intention of trying to do so.

I know this is coming third, but I also think Chris Bell is a good man -- intelligent, knowledgeable and funny. You'd like him, honest. Although he would be a step down for us in the hair department.

One of the great mysteries of this race is why Carole Keeton Strayhorn has imploded almost as fast as Friedman. The only reason Friedman is still in the race is because of free media: Reporters were all so bored by the thought of another snoozer Republican victory, they fought to keep Friedman's candidacy alive long past the point when it was clear that the Kinkster was in it entirely for ego and publicity. I still like the idea -- maybe next time, we should get a funny, smart musician who cares enough to study up a little. Marcia Ball, anyone? Joe Ely?

Strayhorn, normally a bulldog of a campaigner, does not seem to have persuaded many Republicans to her banner: She's no Kay Bailey Hutchison. Since Republicans themselves are fed to teeth with Perry, aside from the right-wing Christian base, this looked to be a chance when they could reclaim their party, or at least redefine it some. Nope, no interest.

Bell is looking like a better bet because: (A) He has the Democratic base vote going for him, and (B) Perry is just so lame. As we start down the stretch, Bell is picking up on the outside, Perry is still at 35 percent after a year, Strayhorn is fading and Kinky stopped to poop on the track.

I'm all in favor of anti-political correctness -- a great source of humor, it is. After using the N word, Friedman claimed great comedians like him used such language. To belabor the obvious, Richard Pryor and Chris Rock are black -- Kinky is not.

Take a line like, "As Jesus once said to the Mexicans, don't do a thing 'til I get back." A Chicano comedian with great timing could do it. It doesn't work from Kinky Friedman. That's why all his funniest stuff is about the weird existential dilemma of being a Texas Jew. Dropping the N word into any sentence involving something black is just not funny. Unless it's funny, you get no points for being anti-p.c.

Right now, Bell's biggest problem is perception. "Doesn't have any money." "Can't raise money." "Democrats can't win." Once you've lost to a clod like Perry, your confidence kind of slips and you think it can't be done. Those who keep repeating these complaints about Chris Bell forget this is an entirely different race. Perry is running on a 35 percent approval rating and plans for 17 more coal-fired power plants. Not to mention seven special sessions and the Trans-Texas Corridor.

There was a bit of flap recently when Liz Smith claimed the late Ann Richards would have been in favor of Kinky for governor. Maybe Liz knew Ann better than I did. But I'd bet not. Listening to her memorial service, I was reminded how hard we fought and how tough it was. I thought of the slippage since she left office -- blacks and browns left out again. All we have to do to win this is get Democrats to vote. Let's make it a vote for Annie.

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