Money. Bell got in the race only after assurances that his campaign would be well-funded. Unlike contests for federal office, contributions to state candidates are not limited, so a relatively small number of wealthy donors can underwrite a serious campaign. Bell did not have such underwriters in his 2006 gubernatorial race, save for Houston lawyer John O'Quinn at the very end of the campaign. This time he will have the money needed to contest the election across a sprawling, diverse district.
He did get a nice endorsement recently. From an email I received Tuesday:
My name is Bob Kelly, and I am the Mayor of West University. When my state senator, Kyle Janek, retired recently, I knew that choosing the next state senator would have a huge impact on my town and the entire area. That's why I am pleased to tell you that I have decided to endorse Chris Bell and am writing today to ask you to help me elect him to the state senate.
Chris is a Democrat. However, party affiliation does not matter. I have watched Chris' career over the years and know that we can trust him to do the right thing. I watched him stand up to insider deals at City Hall and pass landmark ethics reforms. And in Congress, I saw how he demonstrated unusual leadership for a freshman lawmaker by establishing the Port Security Caucus. With his experience and willingness to fight for reform no matter the odds, Chris is the kind of leader who will be able to step right into the Texas Senate and get things done.
Texas needs Chris in the senate to help our public schools, improve access to health care, promote stem cell research and fight for ethics reforms. I don't care if you're a Democrat or a Republican. The priorities that Chris has are the priorities that we all share around here. Chris' campaign is important to me, but what he wants to do in office is important to everyone in Texas.