The lights were low but the applause was loud the other night in the Saengerrunde hall adjoining the Scholz beer garden a long-time Austin gathering spot.
Bob Kruegar, two-term member of the U.S. House from New Braunfels, recited Shakespearean sonnets and read Marc Anthony's funeral oration for Julius Caesar. He wore a three-piece suit and the r's were r-r-rolled and his voice was rich with Elizabethan drama.
Joe Christie, a former state senator and once the chairman of the State Insurance Board, played a harmonica solo. The tails of his Western-cut shirt were hanging out as he wah-wahed the beer-primed audience on a $6.50 Marine Band model Hohner.
The crowd loved them both.
They didn't speak to each other.
Christie and Krueger are competing for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate to run against three-term Republican incumbent John Tower. And the theatrical differences between Krueger and Christie at this fundraiser for a TV station reflect other differences as well.
Kruegar: Calls himself "a statesman, not just another politican." Conservative on many issues. Running on a call that Texas should not have just a vote in the Senate but a leader. Emerged as Congress leader on gas price deregulation. Votes with President Carter slightly more often than Tower.
"He specks our language," said Kathryn Summers after hearing Krueger speak at the Feedlot Steak House on Big Bend Trail in Glen Rose the other day.
Christie: Known in his campaign literature as just plan "Joe." More liberal. Running with the support of organized labor. Campaigns against what he calls the control of "Big Oil over our lives." Portrays Tower and Krueger as vote-alikes.
"Amen, amen, all right," rejoined the congregation of Houston's Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church after the Rev. C.L. Jackson presented Christie to them with his electoral and ecclesiastical blessing.
But Christie has little money and less statewide organization than Krueger, and his political appeal is uncertain. "You've got to remember," says a Houston pol, "Some of these people work for Exxon or are retired from Exxon. And they think that when they die, they are going to Exxon."
Krueger portrays Christie as a lightweight on national issues, while Christie calls Krueger a handmaiden for the oil industry and just another politician.
If Christie wins the primary, the November election against Tower looms as an unheard-of confrontation over the role of Big Oil in a state that produces 38 per cent of the nation's domestic crude. If Krueger wins, sighed an Austin lobbyist for one of the major oil firms, "We've going to spend a lot of money this year, and still lose a friend."
Despite 10 months of campaigning and a war chest approaching $1 million for Krueger, and despite six months of effort and $300,000 for Christie, neither man seems to have caught fire.
So far this year, Krueger has raised some $320,000 from oilman, and Christie has raised $40,000 in labor-related constributions.
Polls show neither with majority support, with vast numbers of voters apparently undecided. But Krueger appears to be running ahead. Even Christie acknowledges his challenge with a radio commercial about his "so-called impossible" underdog position - a commercial played out to the theme from the movie, "Rocky."
"When Texans are voting for office at home, they want someone like them. But when they send someone to Washington, they want someone who can win there," says a Texan - in Washington.
Overwhelmingly reelected to Congress from his West Texas district in 1976, Krueger is well-financed and as organized as a gameboard, both crucial in a state where the voters in houston and El Paso are as far apart as voters in Washington, D.C., and Peoria, III; where the voters in Brownsville and Amarillo are as close to each other as those in Washington and Jacksonville, Fla.
And all over the state are a zillion small rural communities - some rich with oil or growing with new industry, some reeling from high energy costs and low farm prices - whose voters traditionally have determined who wins statewide elections in Texas.
Now the third most populous state, Texas has far more people living in urban areas than in rural ones, but with the strong role of courthouse politics in the countryside, voter turnout in small towns is twice the rate in cities.
So Krueger's organization has put together a demanding schedule of long days in urban areas and crowded days in the countryside as the May 6 primary nears. With the help of a Fuzzbuster II police radar detector and an eager driver ("A1, can we slow down to 80?" Krueger may ask), Krueger can visit 10 or so small communities in a day.
These places are like Hamilton, where a beeper on someone's belt interrupts a gathering of local campaign organizers. It's a fire alarm and two volunteers rush out.
Krueger visited with 250 to 300 people in 10 towns on a recent day, most of the stops also including an interview with the local newspaper or radio station. "People in small towns have long memories," Krueger says, explaining why he thinks the effeot is worth it.
The Christie campaign is concentrating on voters in the major population centers, hoping those long memories in the countryside will remember Christie's early campaign push there. The less-endowed Christie effort hopes for news coverage to make-up for its virtual inability to purchase paid advertising.
To that end, Christie has pumped gas in a score of cities to demonstrate his stated concern for small businessmen. Meanwhile, Krueger has a full advertising effort that includes full-page ads in regional editions of such magazines as Time and U.S. News and World Report.
Christie stresses his record in the state senate and as chairman of the Insurance Board, pointing out things like the insurance rate increase requests he cut or delayed.
Krueger, it seems, is running more against Tower than Christie. "I never thought we wouldn't win (the primary), but I don't want to trip over the first hurdle before I get to the second," Krueger said.
He finds fault with Tower for responding "only to the initiatives of Northerners," and not being an active leader or spokesman for Texas as the state emerges as a growing national political and economic power. Krueger cities his stunning near-success in getting natural gas prices deregulated and the attention it has brought him, and Texas.
"I was voted most effective by my 75 colleagues (who came to Congree the year he did)," Krueger said at the Citizen's National bank in Breckenridge. Actually, 25 aides to 70 of those colleagues cited Kruegar as most effective when asked by a Capitol Hill newspaper about freshman congressmen's performance. He was the most frequently cited - by 35 percent.
Such a shading of reality has led Christie to call Krueger just another politician. He also has alleged that Krueger used congressional funds and staff to assist his campaign - a charge denied by Kueger, who produced support for his denial from congressional budget watchers.
"Desperate men do desperate deeds," says Krueger of Christie's charges. So formidable is Krueger's repertorie of Shakespeare - he holds a Ph.D. from Oxford and was an English professor at Duke University - that one interviewer attributed that statement to Shakespeare himself.
Whatever the differences, there are similarities between the two. Both are wealthy - Krueger from family businesses and ranching, Christie from law and independent oil drilling ventures. Both are sensitive to minorities (Krueger voted for the federal 1975 Voting Rights Act, which brought Texas' voting procedure under federal scrutiny), both want to see government bureaucracy and spending cut back (as Christie says he was able to cut back (as Christie supported the Panama Canal Treaties while Krueger opposed them; Christie supports the natural gas compromise bill in Congres Krueger indicates he sees problem with it that could hurt Texans and thus bring his opposition; Christie opposes the breeder reactor program, Krueger favors it.
Whoever wins the primary, however wins the primary, however, will need to win over a substantial portion of the loser's followers if Republican Tower is to be defeated. "You can't beat him by being so liberal you chase off the middle-of-the-roaders."
What is at stake, as Krueger puts it, is that "the person we elect in 1978 will be there (in Senate) in 1984" - a statement rich in political and literary symbolism that again is Krueger's and not Shakespeare's.
For his part, Christie finds symbolism in the movie. "Rocky," the story of a boxer who fought the fight no one thought he could win. And while it was a gallant effort to the final bell, it must be remembered that in the end, Rocky lost.