Chris Bell's political career was in the dumps by Christmas 2004.
Bell already had lost a bid for Houston mayor, and Republican redistricting had cost him his seat in Congress after his freshman term. But on the upside, Bell had become a hero among Democrats for filing a successful ethics complaint against then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land.
In the kitchen of his Houston home, Bell sat with Jeff Steen, his longtime friend and political adviser, trying to decide whether to run for governor, Steen recalls.
Bell knew it would be an uphill battle, requiring almost a miracle to win. But he believed it could be done by the right candidate in the right place at the right time, Steen said.
However, the road has been steeper than Bell could have imagined.
Democratic leaders and financial donors dodged his calls. The news media cast him as an underfunded also-ran.
It is almost utterly inconceivable that a Democrat could win the Governor's office in Texas - or almost any statewide office. But - if it was going to happen, this would be the year. There are five candidates in the race, and winner takes all - no run offs. The candidates are Republican incumbent Rick Perry. More conservative independent Carrol Keeton Strayhorn - who is running due to her distain for Perry, and belief that he is not conservative enough. Independent Kinky Friedman - who is an odd candidate who could pull disaffected liberal voters, but whose policy positions veer to the right. There is a Libertarian candidate - which will take conservative votes.
And then there is Democrat Chris Bell. Essentially, there are four conservatives and Bell. Clearly, the hope of the Bell campaign is for a very large Democratic turnout, Democrats vote for him instead of Friedman, and finally, that Strayhorn, Friedman and the Libertarian take many votes away from Perry.
Unlikely, but possible.
ABOUT CHRIS BELL
• Age: 46
• Family: Married to Alison Ayers. They were introduced by Allen and Elizabeth Blakemore, two of Houston's top Republican political consultants. The Bells have two sons: Atlee, 10, and Connally, 8.
• Education: Graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and the South Texas College of Law. He was a member of Phi Delta Theta at UT.
• Background: TV and radio reporter. Lawyer. Member of the Houston City Council, 1997-2002. Ran an unsuccessful race for Houston mayor, 2001. Served in the U.S. House, 2003-2005.
• From the stump speech : "If you give me the bully pulpit and a veto pen, I will lead a 'New Texas Revolution.' " "Carole Strayhorn and Rick Perry are two sleeves of the same empty suit"
• What you might not know about him: Bell has a dry, quick wit. But because it is situational and has a you-had-to-be-there quality, his humor rarely translates to the news media.