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Ron Kirk loses U.S. Senate bid

By Suzanne Sprague, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Suzanne Sprague, Reporter: Less than a third of the vote had been tallied when Republican John Cornyn declared victory in the Senate race from the Republican celebration in Austin. While some observers felt the speech was premature, it nevertheless marked a decisive win for the state's Attorney General and former state Supreme Court justice.

John Cornyn, Senator-Elect: Texas made it clear tonight we need new management in the U.S. Senate. I accept with great humility the honor of following Phil Gramm in the U.S. Senate. [clapping]

Sprague: Cornyn trailed in the polls at the outset of the campaign, but several appearances by President George W. Bush and members of his family helped invigorate the state's Republican voter base. Last night, Cornyn pledged to support the President's agenda and be a good colleague for Kay Bailey Hutchison, who now becomes the state's senior Senator.

Cornyn: As you know, I want to go to Washington to work with Senator Hutchison and those who will help break the gridlock on prescription drug coverage for seniors, the creation of a Department of Homeland Security, greater energy independence from imported oil from troubled regions of the world like the Middle East and, yes, to confirm President Bush's law and order judges.

Sprague: Back in Dallas at The Women's Museum, Ron Kirk refused to concede, urging supporters at 11 p.m. to hang around a few hours until votes from the state's urban centers had been counted. But hardly half an hour later, he returned to the stage.

Ron Kirk, Democratic Candidate for U.S. Senate: When I said I'd be back, I didn't think it would be this quick.

Sprague: With more than half of the state's precincts reporting, Kirk still had a 13-point deficit in the polls. He told his group of well-wishers that he had seen the writing on the wall.

Kirk: We're not going to get there tonight, but with the hope and with the dream in our hearts, we're going to get there some day. I know we're going to do it. [clapping]

Sprague: The former Dallas mayor said he wasn't sad and he urged tearful campaign staffers not to cry. But Kirk seemed to get just a bit choked up when he remarked that although he hadn't entered the Senate race to make history, he did break new ground as an African-American.

Kirk: My mom, who struggled to pay the poll tax, when I was born, had a chance to vote for her baby boy to be the United States Senator for the state of Texas. It was worth the ride. [cheering]

Sprague: Like other statewide races, the Senate election was marked by voting problems that prevented the timely tally of ballots in at least two urban counties. That allegation only added to Dallas Democratic Party Chair Susan Hayes' disappointment in the Senate results.

Susan Hayes, Chair of the Dallas County Democratic Party: I want everything proven up to me. Were the machines working? Were votes being tallied correctly? What explains the discrepancy between what we were seeing in internal polling and what we saw on Election Day?

Sprague: Ron Kirk was part of the Democrats' so-called "dream team," and many party loyalists were surprised to see their statewide candidates suffer wide margins of defeat. But Carol Reed, a Kirk campaign consultant who usually works with Republicans, said there was no second-guessing the results.

Carol Reed, Political Consultant: I mean, it's been a sweep around the state, and it just wasn't the time for it. I don't know what we could have done any differently that would have changed the outcome.

Sprague: In his victory speech, John Cornyn thanked Ron Kirk for a vigorous and challenging campaign and also extended an olive branch to democrats by promising to be a senator for all Texans. Ron Kirk indicated he was headed back full-time to the Dallas law firm where he's a partner. But many supporters agreed with Carol Reed when she quipped, "We haven't seen the last of Ron Kirk yet." For KERA 90.1, I'm Suzanne Sprague.


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