WITH the election exactly one year away, the battle for the Texas governor's mansion has begun. Today, professional-baseball executive George W. Bush, son of former President Bush, will visit Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas to officially announce his candidacy. The leading Republican contender to Democratic Gov. Ann Richards, he will pose a formidable challenge to the popular governor, who was a frequent critic of President Bush.
A political neophyte, Mr. Bush has been discussed as a potential gubernatorial candidate since 1989, so his announcement is no surprise. Best known as the managing general partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, he campaigned frequently for his father and has been a fixture on the GOP circuit.
Ms. Richards will be hard to unseat. A popular Democrat in a strongly Democratic state, she has solid connections in the entertainment industry that will help her raise money. At her recent birthday party, singers Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, and other entertainers helped the governor raise $2 million in one night.
Early polls show Richards with a high favorable rating and a comfortable lead over Bush. However, the challenger has strong name recognition for a candidate who has never sought public office. And he is running at a time when Texas politics is changing. His father took Texas in the 1988 and 1992 presidential elections, and the state recently elected Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison to the United States Senate. The state now has two Republican senators for the first time since Reconstruction.
Bush also will employ savvy political consultant Karl Rove. Considered the heir apparent to the late Lee Atwater as the GOP's best campaign strategist, Mr. Rove has gained acclaim for his direct-mail expertise, which has raised millions of dollars for high-profile clients, including Bush and Texas Sen. Phil Gramm. Rove says Richards is vulnerable on a number of issues, including leadership and fiscal responsibility.
On the fiscal front, Rove indicated that his candidate will concentrate on government waste. Under Richards, Rove said, ``Texas is adding a new employee every 65 minutes. Our bureaucracy is growing faster than any other state. State spending has increased by 47 percent since she took office.''
While the Republicans believe Richards is vulnerable, Bush's lack of experience may prove a significant handicap. Ed Martin, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, calls Bush ``just another inexperienced Republican businessman. He may be from a new generation, but it's still the same old Republican ideas from his father's generation ... The race will boil down to: Who is more like the day-to-day working voters? ... Richards is in touch with people. Bush is the son of a president who has had his career paved by his connections.''
Bush's platform will focus on cutting government and increasing prison beds for juvenile offenders. He also supports a voucher system that would allow parents to choose between private and public schools. These ideas are also being espoused by his younger brother, John Ellis ``Jeb'' Bush, who declared his candidacy in the Florida governor's race last month.
Barbara Bush, the popular former first lady, has said she will campaign for her sons. Campaign officials in Texas said they are unsure how much involvement the former president, who now lives in Houston, will have in the campaign.