Viva Victor

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Ninety percent of Morales' funds come from individual donations of $100 or less.

Morales may have picked up a few votes tonight, but he didn't make much money. Sitting in a remote corner of the expansive pavilion, Huynh sells about 20 Morales T-shirts for $15 each. When a would-be buyer scoffs at the price, he explains, "They're $15 because they cost $8 apiece. They're 100 percent cotton."

Morales makes a point of telling people that he's not about big money. Ninety percent of his funds come from individual donations of $100 or less--70 percent from checks for $30 or less.

"It's about las ganas (the desire), el corazon (the heart), and la gente (the people)," he is fond of saying.

But money helps, and Morales admits that he is waiting for national Democratic officials to pump more money into his campaign. According to the latest Federal Election Commission data, the Morales campaign had $122,000. That was chump change compared to the incumbent's $3 million war chest.

What does that mean? For starters, Morales was driving around in his truck this weekend asking for donations in a plastic gas can. Gramm was making a three-day campaign swing through east Texas in a chartered bus to kick off a new series of expensive anti-crime television ads.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committeein Washington is allowed by law to give Morales nearly $2 million. So far, the national organization has contributed money to pay for a Morales fund-raiser, but it's nowhere near the maximum allowed. Stephanie Cohen, the committee's press secretary, praises the message and honesty of Morales' campaign. But to get more money, she says, he'll have to pull within 10 percentage points of Gramm.

Julie Hillrichs, a spokeswoman for the Gramm campaign, thinks it's disingenuous of Morales to say he refuses money from political action committees even though he has taken party funds that come from special-interest groups.

Officials with the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, which has 26,000 members, would like to help Morales financially but respect his financing position. In lieu of money, the union endorses Morales in its newsletters, which also blast Gramm for supporting federal cuts in education spending.

Members of the state affiliate--which Morales belongs to--have also rallied as grassroots supporters. "If you could get clear enough in the public eye the image of Victor Morales in the classroom for 18 years and Phil Gramm in the back halls of Congress for 18 years," says Eric Hartman, the legislative director for the Texas AFT chapter, "Morales would be over the top."

By 10 p.m., Morales and Huynh are heading back to Dallas. With any luck, they'll be home around midnight. These days, 14-plus hours of nonstop campaigning is pretty typical for the candidate and his right-hand man. But one of them, probably Morales, will sleep in the cramped cab of the truck on the way home.

The average-man image of the $36,000-a-year teacher may be all it takes to woo many Morales backers.

Back in Huntsville, several local members of the 1,800-strong Texas Motorcycle Rights Association head from the rally to the Bullwinkle restaurant and lounge. As singer Sideways Sumlin drowns the mellow crowd in blues, the conversation drifts to politics and why they support Morales--even though he's vague on many issues.

This November, 39-year-old Gail Hall, a seamstress, says she'll vote for the first time in her life. "It's because of him. I really like this guy," she says of Morales. "He's just a regular guy. He's just like us."

The average-man image of the $36,000-a-year teacher may be all it takes to woo many Morales backers. After all, his main campaign platform doesn't promise many specifics. He opposes term limits for Congress, saying the voters can kick anyone out who's not doing a good job. He wants to protect bilingual-education programs and Pell Grants. He supports affirmative action, but without quotas. He favors balancing the federal budget but would not amend the U.S. Constitution to do so. (Gramm, who has been a leading budget hawk in the Senate, wants the amendment.) And though he promises that the U.S. Department of Education would not be a sacred cow, he does think government can and should play a role in public schools. (His opponent wants to eliminate the Education Department, advocating education as a strictly local issue, not a federal responsibility.)

Morales is often short on answers as well. The candidate, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, says he's not sure how to proceed on many international issues. He freely admits that he doesn't have ready-made solutions to curbing the costs of the federal Medicare and Medicaid health programs. And he has mixed feelings about welfare reform, in part, because his own family drew public assistance when he was growing up.

But Gail and her husband, Jeff, say they've heard plenty of unfulfilled promises from politicians over the years. They look for Morales to be different. "Victor Morales started the same way we did," says Jeff Hall, an environmental scientist in Huntsville who worked on a grassroots level for his motorcycle-rights group. "He goes out and asks people what they need. Let me put it this way: Phil Gramm is a politician. Victor Morales is a real human being."

Sunday is Morales' family day. Interviews with the media are off-limits. Campaigning comes to a halt. It's time for some much-needed R & R.

"He gets really tired," says Melinda Poss, a local architect who took time off from her work and volunteered to be the campaign's full-time scheduler. "I have to schedule rest time. If I don't, he'll drag, and we have to make up for it over a couple of days."

Morales and his wife, Dani, married in 1985 after a three-and-half-year courtship. Both are avid dancers who taught and performed professionally, though it's hard lately to find time for their passion. Their daughter, Julia, is 11, and son, Jordan, is 9. (Morales also has a 21-year-old son from a previous marriage.)

Morales has been advised that Dani's appearances with him would bolster his family-man image, but that's easier said than done. She works full-time as a hospital administrator and is even busier with the children now that her husband is on the road so much.

But Dani has also been the subject of the campaign's only scandal. It revolves around her 1978 college loan that was outstanding until recently because of a long-running dispute with the federal government over repayment terms.

And though Morales says the campaign is simply something he has to do, Dani has already expressed reservations about moving to Washington if her husband manages to pull off the upset win. "If I can't get them to move," he says, "there will be a lot of flights between Texas and Washington."

Sunday slips by too fast. Late that evening, Morales' staff shows up to sketch out the details of the week ahead. On Monday, he'll start a marathon seven-day campaign trip that will take him to south Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, a part of the state where he enjoys popularity among the large Hispanic population.

Hispanic turnout in November could reach 1 million for the first time in state history, according to some estimates. That would be a 50 percent increase over the 666,795 who voted in 1992. Though election experts here say Morales is sure to attract new Hispanic voters, they don't know how much that will increase his chances of beating Gramm. Hispanic voters are expected to make up only about 15 percent of all registered Texas voters this fall.

Morales, who shifts comfortably between English and Spanish, makes a point of saying that he's not just running as a Hispanic. "Anybody who knows me knows this campaign is not about race," he says at a campaign speech. "It's about representing you--the ordinary, everyday, hard-working, tax-paying citizen who makes this country run."

Vol. 16, Issue 06

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