By Justin Cox

Killeen Daily Herald

BELTON – They may be underdogs. They may be outnumbered. They may be in a 24-year slump and hold exactly zero of the 30 elected positions in the county.

But they are not quiet.

On Friday night, less than two weeks after the State Convention concluded in Austin, about 100 members of the Bell County Democratic Party gathered at a rally in the Bell County Expo Center's upper lounge to hear some of their local hopefuls.

After a March 4 Democratic primary drew record voters to the polls, tripling the previous high for a primary, Bell County Democrats feel that while history may not be on their side, momentum is.

Bell County Democratic Party Chair Arthur Resa said the party is at last unified nationally after the fierce battle between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama caught the attention of American voters. He said the party is experiencing a surge of energy countywide because of the excitement of the presidential race, and now that energy needs to be focused on local races and carried through to November.

Longtime Chet Edwards aide Sam Murphey, of Harker Heights, has been making a push for the District 55 seat since he announced in January. He will be taking on Temple's Ralph Sheffield, who won a brutal battle in the Republican primary, culminating in a victory against former Temple Mayor Pro Tem Martha Tyroch.

Murphey said the energy and enthusiasm coming from the Bell County Democrats just overwhelmed him last month during the county convention, which has been poorly attended in the past.

"The energy and the enthusiasm is just overpowering," Murphey told the crowd Friday. "I cannot wait for the opportunity to challenge my patriotism. I'll defend it, and we're not going to let them take the high ground on family values. They can't take the pride away from our families. We know what they've done to education, and it's time for us to take over."

Murphey echoed much of the sentiment of some of the other candidates, including District 31 congressional candidate John Ruiz, from Williamson County, who will go against incumbent John Carter, R-Round Rock.

"The momentum is just pretty exciting," Ruiz said. "We're just trying to get out there and letting people know who I am, make sure the people understand that I will be a better congressman than John Carter, that they know the differences between us.

"I'm extremely accessible, so I'm at almost every festival. I'm just knocking on doors, making phone calls, and basically trying to do the opposite of what our congressman has been doing. I have not seen him out and about. People don't know who he is and have never seen him out."

Woodie Jones spent 12 years as a justice on the state Third Court of Appeals before losing in 2000. Now he's back and shooting for the chief justice spot.

"My calling is in the judiciary," Jones said. "It's about competence and quality. The energy is here, and it's filtering down through all the candidates."

Killeen Independent School District police officer Phillip Anelli, who is seeking a spot on the Bell County Commissioners Court held by incumbent Richard Cortese, said he's not as concerned about party politics as he is about what he termed "career politicians." In any case, Anelli said he has one goal in mind.

"From the courthouse to the White House, we're going to shake 'em up," he said.

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