Fresh off his wife's victory onto the Houston City Council, state Rep. Rick Noriega is poised to launch a race for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate to challenge Republican incumbent Sen. John Cornyn.
Early in his term, Cornyn gained political strength by serving as one of the leading voices in the Senate for President Bush's administration. But Texas Democrats now see Cornyn, 55, as vulnerable because his personal popularity has sunk along with that of the president.
Noriega, 49, began looking at a challenge during this year's legislative session, but he put off any direct action until after his wife, Melissa, won her City Council runoff election last month.
That gave San Antonio trial lawyer Mikal Watts, 39, an opportunity to plunge in first, forming an exploratory committee last month. Watts also pledged to give his campaign $3.8 million to win the Democratic nomination and another $6.1 million for the general election against Cornyn.
But now Melissa Noriega's race is over, and a dozen of the state's most influential left-leaning blogs have begun an Internet "Draft Rick Noriega" movement. Noriega called it "flattering."
Noriega has neither statewide name identification nor personal wealth to match Watts' potential campaign. But that does not dissuade him from running.
"Mikal's a friend of mine. I appreciate that he's given financial support to candidates and the party, but Texans don't judge candidates by the size of their wallet," Noriega said.
Noriega plans to create his own exploratory committee for the Senate race this week.