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Dem Dwarfs of 2010: Will the Party Field a Serious Candidate for Governor?

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Back in 1988, when all but one big-name Democrat wussed out of running for president—quailing (so to speak) before the political megalith that was George H.W. Bush—media cynics labeled the Democratic field “Gary Hart and the Seven Dwarfs.” For the handful of political addicts who’ve been paying attention to the slow shape-taking of the Democratic primary campaign for governor next year, it’s been tough not to see this race in similar terms. The biggest news has been all about the prominent Dems who’ve shied away from ultimate combat with either of the formidable-but-flawed Republican nominees, Gov. Rick Perry or Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. State senators Kirk Watson and Leticia Van de Putte teased the faithful for a time and bowed out, probably hoping for balmier political climes when the next governor’s race rolls around. Former Comptroller John Sharp and Houston Mayor Bill White—both well-suited for the governor’s race—have chosen to run for U.S. Senate, gambling on Hutchison not changing her mind and retaining her seat through 2012. So at a time when polls are showing Democrats—generic ones, anyway—in their strongest position statewide since they fell into the habit of losing in the ’90s, the field looks decidedly dwarfish. Only one of the four likely candidates so far, humorist Kinky Friedman, has serious name ID across the state—but not as a politician who deserves to be taken seriously, and certainly not as a Democrat. That leaves two candidates who’ve previously struck out in races farther down the ballot—Hank Gilbert, a feisty, grassrootsy fellow who ran unsuccessfully for Agriculture Commissioner in 2006, and Mark Thompson, who lost a race for Railroad Commissioner in 2008—along with Tom Schieffer, who last held office as a state legislator in the ’70s. And it leaves many Democrats waiting and hoping for former Travis County D.A. Ronnie Earle, hardly a statewide political force himself, to jump in.