Tom Craddick Faces Crucial Test in Coming Days

AUSTIN (AP) - House Speaker Tom Craddick, the longest serving Republican in state elective office, rings in the New Year with a shaky hold on power -- and a growing flock of former allies vowing to take him out.

Craddick supporters admit they're short of the votes needed to ensure the Midland lawmaker will keep his powerful post, but they predict he'll pull enough wayward members back in time for the internal House election on January 13th.

In the meantime, Craddick's friends and foes alike are preparing for a showdown this weekend, as both sides meet to hash out strategy.  The high-stakes contest is unfolding with characteristic flair and drama: Secret meetings. Public defections. Whispers of more to come.

On Friday evening, a group of Republicans informally known as the ABCs -- Anybody But Craddick -- are planning to huddle at an undisclosed location in Austin. One of their leaders is predicting that a consensus candidate will emerge by the end of that gathering.

A group of Democrats vowing to oppose Craddick "under any circumstances" is also expected to hold a speaker strategy session on Friday. Craddick, meanwhile, has asked his supporters to gather in Austin on Sunday. His aides won't say where.