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Still Seeking Victory

Victor M. Morales and his trusty Nissan pickup truck have hit the Texas campaign trail again—and this time, the high school geography teacher hopes he'll have enough gas to get to Washington. Mr. Morales, a Democrat and political novice who waged a competitive Senate campaign against Republican Sen. Phil Gramm in 1996, announced last week he will try again in 2002.

With Sen. Gramm's announced retirement, this time Mr. Morales won't have an entrenched incumbent to face if he makes it to November. Texas Attorney General John Cornyn is seen as the likely GOP nominee.

But Mr. Morales, 52, will be facing a tough field in the Democratic primary. The field includes at least four other candidates, including former state Attorney General Dan Morales—no relation to Victor.

Victor Morales made national news in 1996 with his unorthodox campaign.

He drove his white pickup across the state to garner grassroots support. With a $36,000 annual salary supporting his primary run and comparatively meager campaign war chest even after he won the nomination, Mr. Morales couldn't afford hotels. So he ate and slept at supporters' homes. His campaign cost about $900,000, compared with the average $7 million spent on other recent Senate campaigns in Texas.

After his loss—Sen. Gramm took 55 percent of the vote, Mr. Morales 44 percent—he went back to teaching at the high school in tiny Kemp and has done motivational speaking at schools. He'll still refuse to take political action committee donations, and will use his experience in education as a selling point.

"I'd be a totally independent senator who's been in the trenches," he said last week.

He's still driving the truck, which now has 230,000 miles on its odometer. He plans to cover its logo with a sign. He says Nissan never thanked him for the publicity.

"This is not a gimmick—I've been driving it since 1992, it's paid for, and it's gas- efficient," he said.

—Joetta L. Sack [email protected]

Vol. 21, Issue 12, Page 18

Published in Print: November 21, 2001, as Federal File

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