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Wrong Notes From The Campaign Trail

Ralph Capenera's silky voice and charismatic style has made him a hit with the senior citizens he's serenaded over the years at local nursing homes.

But Capenera also is the Republican candidate in the 9th House District, and incumbent Democratic state Rep. Paul Doyle is crying foul over Capenera's crooning.

Doyle believes the performances give his opponent unfair access to senior citizens, a powerful group of voters. Capenera says politics and his candidacy are never mentioned during the performances.

"I come here to play music and to make seniors feel good," Capenera told The Hartford Courant. "I'm not going to stop doing it because it offends my opponent."

Capenera was trained at the Hartford Conservatory and the University of Hartford's Hartt School. He started giving free shows at senior centers about two years ago, he said.

According to the Secretary of State's office, he isn't violating any laws as long as he doesn't campaign while crooning.

Capenera's most recent performance was Friday at a senior center in Rocky Hill. Doyle, meanwhile, showed up at the same senior center Friday and handed out campaign literature.

"I'm just focusing on my own campaign," Doyle said. "I wish I could sing, but I don't."

Write-In Chore May Boost Democratic Chances At DeLay Seat

PEARLAND, Texas — Voting Republican in this conservative district was never difficult when Tom DeLay's name was on the ballot.

With DeLay out of the race and the GOP unable by law to substitute a name on the ballot, voters must write in the Republican candidate, Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs. That could prove to be such a chore that Democrats might walk away with a seat that has long been in the GOP's hands.

Cynthia Hart, a straight-ticket Republican and mother of three in suburban Houston, said she was unaware she would have to write in the Republican candidate.

"I guess I have to be more careful," Hart said. "But I'm not so sure I would take the time to go through all that."

That's welcome news to Democrats who see a real chance for capturing the former House majority leader's seat, a gain that could help them wrest control of the House from the GOP. Democrats need to gain 15 seats to seize the majority.

Beyond the math, winning in DeLay's distict would be sweet revenge for an opposition party that has suffered the powerful Republican's wrath for nearly a decade. Democrats have a legitimate candidate in Nick Lampson, a former congressman who has outraised, outspent and been campaigning longer than the Republicans.

DeLay resigned from Congress in June amid a series of investigations of his fundraising activities. The courts refused to allow Republicans to replace him on the ballot, leading him to withdraw from the race and forcing Republicans to turn to Sekula-Gibbs as a write-in candidate.

National Republicans were supposed to invest $3 million to $4 million to help Sekula-Gibbs, according to state Republican chairwoman Tina Benkiser. So far, however, she's received just $134,000 from the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Lampson had $2.2 million to spend as of June 30.

Much of Sekula-Gibbs' time and money has gone toward telling voters who she is and how to vote for her. Vice President Dick Cheney headlined a fundraiser for her earlier this month. The campaign also had been working to bring in House Speaker Dennis Hastert, but it quickly abandoned those plans in the wake of the congressional page scandal.

Advertising may help voters gain familiarity with Sekula-Gibbs' write-in campaign, but some experts predict it won't help enough.

The district uses electronic voting and voters will have to highlight and enter the "write-in" entry. They then turn a small wheel on the voting machine and spell out Sekula-Gibbs' name. Misspellings or other errors will be accepted as votes as long as the voter's intent is clear to members of "resolution committees" made up of Republicans and Democrats in each county.

Helen Square, an independent voter from Houston, said she would write in Sekula-Gibbs because she was familiar with her work on Houston City Council.

"I like to vote for the person," Square said, "and not for the party."

Alvin and Ruth Ziehr, a Pearland couple, said they try to keep up with local politics but acknowledged it's been difficult to stay atop changes in this race. The two knew that "Shelley someone" was mounting a GOP write-in effort and that no Republican would appear on the ballot.

"But that's all right with me," laughed Alvin Ziehr. "I've never voted Republican in my life."

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