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photo by Alan Pogue FEATURE 11 t’s a typical sticky summer afternoon in Taft, a sorghum and cotton town in San Patricio County named for President Taft’s half-brother Charles. With temperatures close to 100 degrees, it’s not a comfortable day to be on the streets, but when you’re running for a lower office like state representative, you run a shoe leather campaign. This is Juan Garcia’s first shot at elected office, and he knows what he needs to do. Sporting a slightly grown-out buzz cut and dressed in an untucked, light green Hawaiian shirt and white pants, Garcia is knocking on doors in a neighborhood of mixed political ideologies. A woman in a blue housecoat on a quiet side street answers his knock. Garcia promises her that he’s not selling anything and introduces himself as a candidate. The silver-haired woman seems eager to chat. As she speaks, Garcia leans forward and looks her square in the eye, like he’s trying to win a staring contest. As a White House Fellow, Garcia had a front-row seat to watch President Clinton, one of the masters at connecting with people. He quickly learns the woman is a widow and works with veterans. At that point, he begins to extol the importance of proper funding for veterans’ programs. He’s a veteran himself, a pilot. And Garcia knows how to talk tough on national security. The widow is clearly receptive. As he leaves, Garcia spots one of the telltale signs he has trained his field-workers to look for: the white-and-blue windshield stickers on cars that allow entrance into military bases. Down the street, Garcia tells the son of a base employee, working on a scraped-up motorcycle, to thank his father for helping keep America safe. When Garcia appeared on the South Texas political scene in 2004, no one had heard of him. But it didn’t take long for Corpus Christi’s Democratic political groupies to begin whispering about the man who seems to carry all the credentials for an epic political career. They thought he would appeal to just about everyonenot just the Democrats who dominate Corpus Christi politics, but also to the Republicans in the coastal towns outside Corpus. With Election Day only weeks away, Democrats are still energized, and, anecdotally at least, many Republicans are considering abandoning their party’s incumbent for the energetic challenger with such great potential. 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 22, 2006