Republican incumbent Attorney General Greg Abbott might have the money, the office and odds on his side, but Democratic challenger David Van Os is nothing if not optimistic.
When Abbott's taking his message to the masses with television ads in the weeks leading to the Nov. 7 election, Van Os will be arriving at the last of the 254 county courthouses, giving stump speeches and hoping for a populist revolt.
After all, Van Os had just $3,200 in campaign funds left at last report. Abbott's war chest was overflowing with more than $7 million.
On. Nov. 7, voters will choose between incumbent Abbott, who has made his primary focus protecting children from sexual predators lurking online and on the streets, and challenger Van Os, a self-described "people's lawyer." Jon Roland, an Austin computer programmer, is also running as a Libertarian.
As the state's 50th attorney general, Abbott last year argued successfully before the U.S. Supreme Court against a lawsuit seeking to remove a Ten Commandments monument on state Capitol grounds. He also sued Sony BMG, alleging it imbedded compact discs with "spyware," and he has uncovered $150 million in Medicaid fraud.
Abbott has drawn criticism, however, for a string of news releases touting his fight against an "epidemic" of voter fraud. A federal lawsuit filed in September on behalf of the Texas Democratic Party and other plaintiffs accuses the attorney general of prosecuting technical violations of the state election code to intimidate minorities and suppress votes for Democrats. Abbott dismisses the suit as "flat wrong."
His focus on the campaign trail is child protection, which he lists as his highest priority. In mid-September, he announced the 500th sex predator arrest under two units he's created since taking office in December 2002.
The fugitive unit tracks down and arrests convicted child sex predators who violate conditions of parole, while investigators in the cyber crimes unit enter Internet chat rooms, posing as teenage girls.
He said child predators are getting more cunning, no longer resorting to the "playgrounds of yesterday." Now they hunt in cyberspace, including popular networking sites, such as MySpace, which he's asked to increase their efforts to protect children. Meanwhile, he said his teams are stopping predators before they can strike.
"Eighty-eight times we have shown up and met a predator who thought he was going to assault a 13-year-old girl and arrested him," Abbott said. "I'm most proud of protecting the children of this state. The children of Texas are always vulnerable to predators."
Van Os 'whistle-stop tour'Abbott previously served as a district judge in Harris County and a Texas Supreme Court justice, but he declines to answer questions about whether his millions in campaign funds suggest higher ambitions than attorney general.
"It's important for anyone running for office at any level to not take anyone's vote for granted," he said. "I am going to be using the campaign funds I've raised to buy TV commercials to help get out the message."
Van Os readily admits he can't afford such mass exposure, but he's counting on his power-to-the-people philosophy to carry him into office. "I truly believe I'm going to win," he said last week, predicting a populist uprising as yet undetected by pundits and pollsters.
The candidate's so-called "whistle-stop tour" largely lacks a train, but Van Os and his wife, Rachel, have been trekking across Texas in her red Chrysler Pacifica. Van Os' goal is to speak on the steps of all 254 Texas county courthouses. Last week, he still had 40 to go.
"I'm running because I have to," he said. "I feel a personal responsibility to give the people of Texas a people's lawyer like you're supposed to have in the attorney general's office."
If he lacks a television presence, he has splashed his likeness on a billboard, decked out with string tie, Stetson and vest. "Notice to Big Oil: I'm Coming after You," it says.
Abbott's campaign manager, Daniel Hodge, said the attorney general sent civil investigative demands, similar to subpoenas, to 12 large oil companies or refiners in November 2005, requiring them to produce information about soaring gasoline prices. He said the attorney general's monitoring of gasoline pricing is ongoing, part of a multistate effort.
Van Os, however, accuses Abbott of going easy on energy companies and said his first act will be to issue his own investigative subpoenas to chief executive officers of giant oil companies.
"Price manipulation is easy," he said. "It would be easy for the price to be jacked up artificially from the transfer of product from the refinery to the distributor."
Roland targets greedHe also attacks the state's metropolitan daily newspapers. He accuses them of not recognizing the populist revolt he said he sees from ordinary people whose pocketbooks are taking a beating.
"Corporate greed is running roughshod over the people, from big oil corporations, from the insurance monopolies, from the pharmaceutical industry, from private utility barons, from water profiteers," he said.
Roland, the Libertarian, said he's upset because public officials in Texas who abuse their offices are not held accountable. He isn't ready to name names, though.
"My main concern is official corruption," he said. "It's also corporate corruption from the private sector, but I'm mainly concerned with the public sector. Nobody's doing anything about it."