AMERICAN ELECTION: Bush junior gets a career boost

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Austin - Texas Republicans handed the country's biggest block of electoral votes to presidential loser Bob Dole, but won in every other way as Republicans consolidated control of politics in the Lone Star State.

Poised to capitalise on the Republican ascendency in Texas is Governor George W. Bush, son of former president Bush, who is flirting with a run for President in 2000.

"Shrub", as he is known locally, lamented Mr Dole's loss, but revelled in the 11 per centage point win of US Senator Phil Gramm, a Republican, and the party's victory in every statewide race on the ballot, including four places on the Supreme Court, three on the Court of Criminal Appeals and chairman of the Railroad Commission, which controls the state's oil and gas business.

Republican gains are making a two-party state out of what just 20 years ago was solidly one-party. The first changes came with national and statewide offices, but increasingly have reached deep in to the heart of Texas's state legislative and county offices. The elections on Tuesday eased Republicans to within one or two votes of a majority in the state Senate and to within 5-10 votes of a majority in the House.

The divided legislature will mean bitter partisan politics in the next session, which meets in January. Governor Bush is staking part of his state and national reputation on a property tax reform Bill, which, in a state with no income tax, would be highly contentious, even without a fractious legislature. A workable compromise on tax reform, and on the coming state battle over education reform, could give him a national platform.

Governor Bush, who was prominent at his party's national convention in San Diego, carefully kept his comments local in nature on election night, praising the Republicans' "compassionate philosophy in tune ith Texas." But he could not contain a swipe at the larger arena: "Mr President, we expect you to govern the same way you campaigned, on the Republican agenda."

The most talked about Texas race was the defeat of Victor Morales, a Democrat, by 11 percentage points to incumbent US Senator Phil Gramm, who spent US$4.6 million. "Look at what we did with what we had," said Mr Morales, whose everyman candidacy from his white pickup truck spotlighted the state's growing number of Latinos. "We are strong, we are clean, we are America, pay attention."

A local contest which followed the state Republican trend saw Suzanna Hupp win a seat in the state legislature by 6 percentage points, replacing a Democrat. Ms Hupp became a national gun rights advocate after her parents were killed at a cafeteria in Killeen in 1991, in the worst massacre of its kind in US history. The National Rifle Association supported her.

Further down the ballot, Democrats are still in control, but women and minorities are staking a claim. Margo Frasier has become the first woman ever to be elected sheriff here in Travis County, and Richard Hernandez has become the first Latino ever to be elected sheriff in adjacent Bastrop County. Ms Frasier defeated a black male Republican and Mr Hernandez defeated a white male Republican.