The Big Conversation:
Republicans and Democrats kick off their state conventions today, but the atmosphere surrounding each couldn't be more different.
Republicans, meeting in Fort Worth for their three-day affair, have attracted a bevy of high-profile speakers, including Gov. Rick Perry, who will deliver the convention kickoff speech around 10 a.m today, and Ron Paul, who will lead a breakout session later in the day. Attorney General Greg Abbott will also make an appearance today. U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Comptroller Susan Combs and House Speaker Joe Straus will all appear Friday. Rick Santorum will also headline a private dinner event on Friday, and Herman Cain is set to host a party the same day with the Texas Young Republican Federation. On deck for Saturday: U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.
Star wattage aside, Republicans enter the event energized by several high-profile runoffs at the top of the ballot, meaning candidates — like U.S. Senate rivals Dewhurst and Ted Cruz, who will speak Saturday — have an opportunity to woo the GOP faithful as the party goes about uniting its various factions, selecting delegates for the national convention and electing party leaders.
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"We want to have a smoothly run and fair convention with no breakdowns," Steve Munisteri, chairman of the state GOP, told the Tribune, adding, "It's important to unify so we can go forward and get behind our candidates for the general election." (Munisteri, who has received praise for relieving the party's debt, is unopposed in his bid for a second two-year term.)
Democrats, meanwhile, will gather in Houston, hoping to rise above a torpor that has plagued the party since 1994, the last time a Democrat won statewide office. Turnout in this year's Democratic primary totaled only half that of the Republican primary, and in the U.S. Senate race, a relative unknown — who didn’t report spending any money — ended up in a runoff with former state Rep. Paul Sadler.
“All they can really do at the convention is continue what seems to be a decade-plus process of rebuilding with no real end in sight to that process,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin and a Tribune pollster. “If you ask people who are the statewide candidates in the next cycle, you hear crickets.”
A few bright spots, however, could light up the festivities. Gilberto Hinojosa, a Brownsville lawyer who has also served as a state appeals court judge, could become the party's first Hispanic chairman. (Hinojosa, the perceived front-runner, will face at least two other candidates, Fidel Acevedo of Austin and Rachel Barrios-Van Os of San Antonio.) San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, set to deliver the convention's keynote, will also likely steal some of the spotlight, as will state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, whose filibuster last year famously forced a special session of the Legislature.
- On Wednesday, the second day of his two-day swing through Texas, Mitt Romney set a local fundraising record in San Antonio, bringing in at least $3 million from South Texas donors, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Gene Powell, the University of Texas System Board of Regents chairman, who organized one of the fundraisers, said the day's events for Romney had doubled the previous local record, set in 2008 at a John McCain-Sarah Palin event attended by Palin. Romney on Wednesday also attended a fundraiser in Houston, where he was introduced by former Secretary of State James Baker.
- Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Wednesday praised a court ruling upholding a $26 million verdict for Jordan Fishman, a Florida businessman who has claimed that two foreign companies stole his tire designs, The Dallas Morning News reports. Dewhurst has hit U.S. Senate rival Ted Cruz for his work as an appellate lawyer for one of the companies, a Chinese tire-maker. "Justice was served," Dewhurst said Wednesday. A Cruz spokesman hit back: "Dewhurst has spent over $10 million of his personal fortune falsely attacking Ted Cruz, all in an effort to distract voters from Dewhurst’s tax-and-spend record — and the voters saw through the Dewhurst deceptions."
- The state's Sunset Advisory Commission on Tuesday vetoed a proposal to share annual financial disclosures of state officials on the Texas Ethics Commission website. Have no fear: The Tribune has added new and previously missing personal finance statements for statewide officeholders into its directory of elected officials, including the most recent disclosures for Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Comptroller Susan Combs and Attorney General Greg Abbott.
“The donors didn’t see it as a winnable race, particularly after Bill White. That made them feel that Texas wasn’t winnable for a Democrat, and they’re putting their money elsewhere.” — Sean Hubbard, who placed fourth in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, to the Tribune
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