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Monday, 14 October, 2002, 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK
Ron Kirk aims at the heart of Texas
Ron Kirk hopes to overturn a 40-year hold on a Republican seat
Ron Kirk could become the only black senator
Democrat Ron Kirk, an African-American Senate hopeful from normally Republican Texas, has got the Grand Old Party worried.

When three-term Republican Senator Phil Gramm announced his retirement last year, Mr Kirk seized the chance to wrest the seat from the party that has held it for more than 40 years.

And if successful the former mayor of Dallas would bloody the American's president's nose.

Texas is Bush country and the Republicans maintain a stranglehold on the state, with all 27 elected state-wide office-holders representing the GOP.

House seats
Republicans: 223
Democrats: 208
Independents: 1
(Three vacant)
Senior party figures, including the president, The First Lady and Vice-President Dick Cheney have been sent to Texas to rally Republicans behind their man, Texas Attorney General John Cornyn.

Texas is pivotal to Republican hopes of dislodging the Democrats from their one-seat hold on the Senate.

If Mr Kirk's political ambitions are successful, he will be the only African-American in the current Senate and the third African-American to claim a seat since Reconstruction in the 1870s.

Vice-Presidential material

Commentators say the symbolism of the victory would be so great that Mr Kirk could not help but be propelled onto the Democrats' shortlist of prospective vice-presidential candidates.

And, as a senator from the nation's second-most-populous state, he would be the most prominent of a rising generation of black politicians in their 30s and 40s.

Dallas skyline
Mr Kirk has the support of some of the business community in Dallas
Despite this, Mr Kirk says he is not involved with identity politics. He is said to have never campaigned on a race ticket, preferring to run on economic issues, such as corporate accountability.

He is said to represent the rise of a new generation of pragmatic black politicians. He displays little of the firebrand qualities of fellow Democrat Jesse Jackson, and sees things in terms of co-operation rather than confrontation.

Business support

In order to win the seat, Mr Kirk needs strong support from state's black and Hispanic voters. He is expected to do well with both groups, partly because he is running on the same ticket as Tony Sanchez - a Hispanic candidate for Texas governor.

But he will also need white votes and is said to have forged alliances across ideological and racial lines.

He has built up a strong base of support among white moderate voters in Dallas for his a solid record as a pro-business mayor.

Commentators say he has shown his deal-making talents by pushing through a number of projects in the city - such as a gleaming new sports arena, a light rail system, a new police HQ which is under construction, and helping secure some $500m of funding for development.


The economy is a big issue in Houston - the hometown of the scandal-wracked Enron Corporation. And Mr Kirk, who lost some of his own money in the collapse of the energy giant, has been quick to exploit the issue as part of his campaigning for corporate accountability.

Mr Kirk is said to be a tough, polished operator, with an engaging personality.

At 48, he is a product of the civil rights movement. His father was the first black to work for the postal service in Austin and his mother was a teacher and activist. He graduated from the University of Texas Law School in 1979.

Shortly after, he worked as a defence adviser to Senator Lloyd Bentsen, a moderate Democratic Senator. He then joined a prominent law firm in Dallas, and worked mainly as a lobbyist for corporate clients.

He received political recognition in 1994 when he was appointed as the first African-American to serve as Texas Secretary of State.

Opinion polls indicate that Mr Kirk has a chance of winning the seat. But his opponent's most valuable resource, the personal support of the US president, could prove too much.

Key races




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