Key contests that may shape next year's Congress; Fort Worth's Jim Wright in a real 'cow town' fight

House majority leader Jim Wright (D) of Texas has spent most of his political life campaigning for others. Secure in his own electoral stronghold in Fort Worth, which has sent him to Congress 13 times -- seven of them without opposition -- he has stumped the country on behalf of Democratic colleagues who are deprived of the Luxury of so "safe" a seat.

The 3-by-5-inch card that he tucks into his breast pocket-every morning, neatly typed with the day's schedule, typically has included a couple of appear ances at receptions for fellow Democrats in the House of Representatives.

But this year those cards are filled mostly with campaign appearances for himself.

Beset by shifting political allegiances among voters, a formidable opponent, and a heavy influx of money from national Republican and conservative groups, Jim Wright faces the toughest challenge of his long career.

His prominence as the No. 2 leader of the House makes him a target the GOP would dearly love to pick off. The result is a political shoot-out the likes of which the one-time "cow town" of Fort Worth hasn't seen since Jim Wright was first sent to Washington 26 years ago.

"It is nice to say that the House majority leader is from Tarrant County, that one of the most powerful men in Congress is from Distric 12," says Republican challenger Jim Bradshaw. "But we have lost everything if he does not represent us. . . . Jim Wright has been gone too long."

Pointedly campaigning under the slogan "Bradshaw for US," the young former mayor pro-tem of Fort Worth lambastes the congressman for voting against the B-1 bomber (the district contains big plants of defense contractors General Dynamics , Bell Helicopter, and Textron), voting for a 10-cent-a-gallon, hike in gasoline taxes in auto-dependent Texas, and voting against a general tax cut.

Mr. Wright, a gregarious campaigner with a touch of the old-style spell-binder in his mellifluous Texas drawl, argues that having the majority leader as its congressman is good for Fort Worth -- providing "access to the room and sometimes a place at the table where decisions are made."

He claims the interests of his constituents, in the end, are basically the same as those of the nation as a whole.

"If there's any other place in America whose citizens are more fundamentally patriotic or more dedicated to what's best for the country than the people of Tarrant County," he tells them, "I do not know where that place is."

Although Mr. Brashaw is about as well-known in the district as the congress man and also is very popular, most political analysts in the state are expecting Wright to be returned for a 14th term, but not without a "good scare.'

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