TEXANS will select a United States senator from among 20 or more candidates in a May 1 special election to complete the term of Democrat Lloyd Bentsen.
There is no primary to narrow the field. If no candidate receives a majority, the top two finishers will compete in a runoff.
In this state that President Bush carried and that also gave Ross Perot (Ind.) more than a fifth of his presidential campaign votes, the choices for senator range from conservative to extremely conservative.
Democrat Bob Krueger, the interim senator appointed by Gov. Ann Richards (D), is denounced as a liberal by GOP challengers. But some Texas Democrats denounced with equal force Mr. Krueger's selection because his voting record as a congressman was too conservative for them.
Another noteworthy Democrat in the race is Richard Fisher, who served as an aide to Mr. Perot's presidential candidacy and who helped to write Perot's "United We Stand" manifesto. Mr. Fisher is spending $2 million of his own money on the campaign.
Another well-known Democrat making a run is Jose Gutierrez, a political activist who Hispanic Business magazine ranked in 1991 among the nation's 100 most-influential Hispanics. Primarily concerned with labor and social-justice issues, Dr. Gutierrez says he can count on 250,000 Hispanic voters to mark his name on the ballot.
Two GOP congressmen, Joe Barton and Jack Fields, are seeking Mr. Bentsen's seat, as is Texas treasurer Kay Bailey Hutchison, the first woman Republican elected to statewide office. Clymer Wright, a former Reagan operative in Houston who led successful fights against a gay-rights ordinance and for city council term limits, rounds out the list of viable Republicans in the race.
Mr. Barton plans to spend more than $1 million on his campaign. That's what it will take to reach the 3 million voters - of the state's 9 million registered voters - who will likely turn out May 1, he says.
ALL candidates except Krueger appeared March 29 at a forum organized by the University of Texas chapter of United We Stand America (UWSA), the political education and advocacy organization founded by Perot.
UWSA is about to wind up its initial, three-month nationwide membership drive. Spokeswoman Sharon Holman would not estimate the current total, but she did say 70,000 applications were processed in one day recently.
The continuing impact of the Perot phenomenon was apparent in the candidates' focus on budget and government-reform issues. Several of the candidates - Ms. Hutchison, Barton, Fisher, independent Lou Zaeske - are UWSA members. And even most of the others espoused UWSA's goals: a balanced-budget amendment, a line-item veto, term limits, an end to the use of foreign lobbyists, and elimination of political action committees.
Many candidates spoke against overseas defense spending, foreign aid, and benefits payments to illegal aliens. Mr. Zaeske, who speaks Czech (the third most-spoken language in Texas), advocates making English the official US language. The US has no official language, though English is the most widely spoken. Zaeske's position was booed by Gutierrez supporters.
Zaeske was one of few to speak March 29 against the North American Free Trade Agreement, calling it a "fraud and theft" pact. Gutierrez and the three officeholding Republicans disagreed with Zaeske's view that NAFTA would steal jobs from the US.
Mr. Wright attacked Barton for his vote for the $35,000 pay raise and automatic cost-of-living increases for House members. He knocked Mr. Fields for bouncing 22 checks in the now-defunct House bank, and charged that Hutchison's campaign is advised by a lobbyist for foreign interests, despite her advocacy of abolishing such jobs. Wright also denounced the superconducting supercollider that would bring 2,000 jobs to Texas at a cost of $4.7 million per job. "It's pork, plain and simple," he said.
The candidates will have more opportunities to speak to UWSA-sponsored forums. Their answers to questions from UWSA will be broadcast over the radio.
Judge Charles Howell, a GOP candidate from Dallas who expects "to raise all I can and spend more than that," appreciated the forum's "level playing field." Candidates had equal time and spoke in turn. Barton, however, wished that only the most viable candidates had been included.