An Insider's View of the Election

Our author visits the political pros in four battleground states and is reminded that the swing vote in the November election is not conservative or liberal, northern or southern, young or old, black or Hispanic--it's the white middle class.


But first the democrats are going to have to figure out what to do about Texas. Since Texas became a state, in 1845, no Democrat has won the presidency without carrying it. Since 1952 Texas has gone Democratic four times--1960, 1964, 1968, and 1976. It obviously helped that Lyndon Johnson was on the ticket in 1960 and 1964. Johnson's influence, along with that of his then-Democratic ally Governor John Connally, probably made the difference in 1968 as well, when Hubert Humphrey carried the state by a narrow margin.

What will not help the Democrats this year is George Bush at the top of the Republican ticket. Texas is one of the states that Bush claims as his home (he maintains an address at a Houston hotel). Until he won this year's Republican presidential primary, Bush on his own had been on a losing streak in Texas. He was rejected in three statewide elections: for senator in 1964 and 1970, and the 1980 Republican presidential primary. Like thousands of others, Bush came to Texas to make his fortune in the oil business. He ended up representing a Houston district in Congress for two terms. In Texas, where chauvinism is a time-honored tradition, that may be enough to qualify him as a favorite son. What do the Democrats have to compete with that? The fact that Michael Dukakis speaks Spanish, for one thing.

And something else: an oil bust that has nearly caused the collapse of the Texas economy. Banks are failing, or teetering on the brink. Great fortunes have disappeared. Austin, Houston, and other Texas cities, overdeveloped in the 1970s and early 1980s, have the highest office-vacancy rates in the country. Unemployment in Texas has been at recession levels since 1983. "We're a Third World economy," said Tim Richardson, the editor of The Quorum Report, a Texas political newsletter. "We're debt-ridden, we're commodity-based, we're exporters." Indeed, the boom-bust cycle in Texas has run counter to the national economy. High oil prices in the 1970s and early 1980s created a boom in Texas but threw the nation's economy into turmoil. The process reversed in 1983. As oil prices collapsed, Texas went into a dizzying tailspin. Bumper stickers that read LET THE YANKEES FREEZE IN THE DARK were succeeded by LET THE TEXANS ROT IN THE SUN.

The effect of the oil bust on politics has been confused. Back in 1978 Texas Republicans scored a big breakthrough when they elected William Clements, the first Republican governor since Reconstruction (by a margin of eight tenths of one percent), and re-elected U.S. Senator John Tower (by a margin of one half of one percent). The Democrats came back in 1982, when Mark White defeated Clements for the governorship and a whole slate of progressive Democrats was elected to statewide office. Then, in 1984 and 1986, in the teeth of the oil bust, it was the Republicans who made the big gains.

Texas was one of the few states where Reagan had strong coattails in 1984. The party picked up five congressional seats, made significant gains in the state legislature, and increased its share of county-level offices by half. Two years later, in one of the great grudge matches of Texas history, Clements came back to defeat White and regain the governorship for the Republicans. "Normally, when we vote pocketbook, we move left," said Molly Ivins, a columnist for the Dallas Times Herald. "But the first thing we did when we had a chance to prove it was to elect this rich, right-wing Republican governor." Anti-incumbent voting had a lot to do with it. "We threw out the ins and put in the outs," Ivins said.

The Republicans have not exactly had an easy time of it, however. Last year the Texas legislature passed the largest tax increase in Texas history. In fact, it is reported to be the largest tax increase in any state's history. Governor Clements, who was already in trouble because of his involvement in a Southern Methodist University football scandal, infuriated Republicans by signing off on the tax bill, thereby violating his campaign pledge not to raise taxes. "He is a dead weight on the Republicans in Texas," said Ronnie Dugger, the publisher of the Texas Observer. Dugger called it "a Mecham problem," referring to the ex governor of Arizona who was impeached and removed from office this year.

Virtually every Republican I spoke to talked about the falloff in Republican fund-raising. Texas used to be an abundant source of support for right-wing campaigns all over the country--sort of the Republican Party's Malibu. No more. John Kelsey, a key operative in Texas Republican politics, explained that the oil bust hurt Republicans in two ways. "First," he said, "money has disappeared. Wealth has been eroded, which cuts down on discretionary political giving." The second problem stems from the grievances of people in the oil and gas business. "People think, I didn't get any support so I'm not going to give any support," Kelsey said.

For years now the Texas Republican Party has been making spectacular gains. Texas voted for Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956. The Republicans gained a U.S. Senate seat in 1961 and have held it ever since. From 1978 to 1986 the number of Republican congressional seats rose from four to ten. The party's holdings have grown from four to six state senate seats, from twenty-two to fifty-six state house seats, and from eighty-seven to 410 county offices.

Lance Tarrance, a Houston Republican pollster, noted that Texas Republicans have done particularly well with two constituencies. One is young voters. "The Republican Party is driven today by a young vote," he told me. "That's why we have so many young state representatives and young members of Congress." The other is recent arrivals. According to Tarrance, about a quarter of Texas voters have moved to the state since 1970. His polls show that native Texans now compose less than half the electorate. "Most of these new Texans didn't know Sam Rayburn or Lyndon Johnson," Tarrance observed. "They've known Jimmy Carter." According to Tarrance, if you ask Texans today how they normally vote, Democrats are only slightly ahead of Republicans. The Democratic political consultant George Shipley said, "Texas is like California and New York. It's a media state. It's a no-party state."

In Tarrance's view, the oil recession has ended the Republican surge, at least for the time being. What is over, he argued, is the bandwagon effect: "People said, 'The economy's great, Reagan's great, the Democrats are in bad shape. Maybe we ought to get on the bandwagon.' That sort of cheap vote we were getting has disappeared." I talked to Jack Martin, the chief operative for Democratic Senator Lloyd Bentsen, who sensed "a shift back." He said, "Every time Reagan gets on television and says the nation's in better shape than it has been economically in years, you've got these huge groups of Texans who say, 'What! Where?'"

This is not to say that Reagan--or Bush--is in deep trouble in Texas. As George Christian, formerly Lyndon Johnson's press secretary and now a political consultant in Austin, observed, "People don't really blame Reagan. They blame Saudi Arabia. They blame OPEC. We had a lot of problems in agriculture even before the oil collapse. But Reagan didn't get the flak for that. I think he deserved it." Tarrance noted that there has been some slippage in Reagan's job-approval rating in Texas, but it's still above the national average. The biggest complaint is that the Reagan Administration has no energy policy. "There is a perception that Ronald Reagan has neglected Texas," Shipley said. "Democrats talk about the national Republican policy of 'dismantling domestic producers' for the sake of 'cheap imported crude from nations that harbor terrorism.'" What oil people want, Shipley said, is "a stabilized and managed price of oil." But the federal government will have to do the stabilizing and managing, and that is anathema to Reaganites. The result is disappointment with Reagan but not large-scale political backlash.

Although Texas may be as bad off economically as Iowa, Texans are not voting like Iowans. That was clear in this year's Republican presidential primaries. George Bush was humiliated by his third-place finish in Iowa, where the Reagan Administration's farm policy was widely denounced. One month later Bush wiped out Bob Dole and Pat Robertson in Texas, where the Reagan Administration's energy policy was hardly discussed. George Bush does not strike most voters as a stereotypical Texan. Still, no Texan I spoke to seemed to begrudge Bush his favorite-son status, even though he was born and bred in New England and has no real track record in Texas politics. "It's kind of like the definition of bastard," Jack Raines, the Republican secretary of state of Texas, said. "Some of them are accidents of birth, and others are self-made. We define Texans the same way." Tim Richardson called Bush "a founding father" of the modern Texas Republican Party. "He literally was one of the first people to get it started. Of the three people who came to that first Republican meeting, George Bush was one of them."

"Moderate, conservative, or whatnot," George Christian said, "it's just socially acceptable to be for Bush." However Texans may feel about the Reagan Administration's energy policy--and Bush's opposition to an oil import fee--everyone knows that Bush made his fortune in the Texas oil business. Tom Loeffler, a former Republican congressman and a candidate for governor in 1986, said, "Texans know there's only one man in the presidential race right now that understands the industry." Bill Miller, a Republican political consultant, put it more succinctly: "In the clutch, he's ours."

That Texans accept a transplant like Bush as a favorite son says less about Bush than it does about Texas. Texas has changed. In fact, everyone I spoke to there was eager to tell me how much it has changed. Ronnie Dugger, who founded the Texas Observer in 1954, described the changes this way: "The first fifteen years I was watching Texas politics, liberals were like rocks on the plain. You just saw a plain of conservatives that was powerful, deeply organized, and dominated by the oil industry and racism. You had a state that was totally predictable and utterly one-party. Then it changed. Texas has become like the rest of the country. You've got a feminist movement, you've got a black movement, you've got a Hispanic movement, you've got a gay movement, you've got women running cities. You've got a majority of progressives in the top state offices. You've got Republicans winning congressional seats all over the state, and the Democrats holding on. Overall," Dugger concluded, "it's a much more civilized state."

Molly Ivins had a different take on these developments. "The biggest change is that we're now a two-party state," she said. "I disapprove. I went off to Minnesota when I was a young reporter, and I thought that I had landed in heaven. I just went around going, 'Look, there are two political parties here, and they are both progressive and there is no corruption and it's all like my high school civics textbook. This is the most wonderful place in the world. Gosh, if we could only have two political parties in Texas, it would just be happiness.' Then I came back and noticed that someone had actually thought of starting another political party in this state--one that was to the right of Texas Democrats! That is ground I thought didn't even exist."

But the emergence of a competitive Republican Party did not end up pulling the Democrats to the right, as Ivins feared. Instead, it freed the Democratic Party to become more progressive. What the Republicans did was pull a lot of conservative voters out of the Democratic Party. The action began to shift to the Republican primaries and to general elections, events that had had little meaning when Texas was a one-party state.

"As people have left the Democratic primaries," Christian said, "it has tended to make the Democratic Party more liberal. It has given labor more power. It has certainly given Hispanics and blacks more power. And it has given card-carrying liberals more power. The net result is that a liberal can be nominated for high office in the Democratic primary." One such is Michael Dukakis, who proved his national appeal by winning the Democratic presidential primary in Texas this year. According to a Los Angeles Times exit poll, Texas Democratic primary voters were 14 percent Hispanic and 13 percent black. Self-described conservatives barely outnumbered self-described liberals, 33 to 29 percent. Tim Richardson described a new coalition of blacks, Hispanics, gays, labor, feminists, and white liberals that has come to power in Texas cities. "The mayor of Houston is a woman, the mayor of Dallas is a woman, the mayor of San Antonio is Hispanic. They've all been elected by this coalition. The Democratic coalition in the urban centers will become the Democratic coalition statewide." He added, however, "It will take some time; 1988 may not be the year."

I met with Bob Brischetto, of the Southwest Voter Research Institute, in San Antonio, the nation's principal center for research on the politics of Hispanic Americans, to discuss their key swing vote in Texas. Brischetto noted that the voting-age Hispanic population in Texas had virtually doubled in the 1970s. As of 1986 Hispanics composed 25.5 percent of the total state population. Their electoral power is diminished, however, because an especially high proportion of them are under voting age and because they have a low citizenship rate (about half of voting-age Texas Hispanics are American citizens), low voter registration, and low turnout. While Hispanics constituted 22 percent of the total voting-age population in 1986, they made up 20 percent of voting-age citizens, 13.5 percent of registered voters, and only eight percent of actual voters.

Brischetto observed that "Hispanic turnout rates in general elections lag behind the state average by twenty percentage points." In primaries, however, the situation is reversed. "When you look at Democratic primary elections, Mexican-American turnout has exceeded the state average since 1980." In part this voting pattern is due to an overall decline in Democratic primary participation. "Hispanics have maintained their participation in primaries more than non-Hispanics," Brischetto said. It is also due to strong local organizations that get out the Hispanic vote, particularly in San Antonio, where Democratic primaries are highly competitive and where there are also many Hispanic candidates on the ballot. In fact, Michael Dukakis built his Texas primary victory on the support of Hispanic voters, who, according to the exit polls, gave him 54 percent of their vote, as compared with 15 percent for Jesse Jackson.

Virtually every Republican I spoke to expressed the view that the party could win Hispanic votes on the basis of intense patriotism and "family values." "Republicans philosophically have more affinity toward Hispanic culture than they do toward black culture," Lance Tarrance said. As a result, "Republicans are getting competitive with the Hispanic vote." They still have a long way to go, however. Exit polls taken by the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project show Reagan getting 25 percent of the Texas Hispanic vote in 1984 and Clements getting 19 percent in 1986. In the 1986 race for attorney general the Republicans nominated a Mexican-American candidate, but even he managed to win only 39 percent of the Hispanic vote.

According to Brischetto's polls, Mexican-Americans are more conservative than Anglo voters on issues related to religion, such as abortion and school prayer. On an issue that relates to discrimination, however, such as the Equal Rights Amendment, they are more liberal than Anglos. As for foreign policy, Hispanic views on military aid to the contras were exactly the same as Anglo views; the two groups were equally opposed. On the issue of increasing defense spending, Hispanic voters were more negative than Anglo voters in both 1984 and 1986.

Some of the biggest differences occur on economic issues. Compared with Anglo voters, Hispanics were far less approving of cuts in social programs and of President Reagan's economic policies than were Anglo voters. In Brischetto's opinion, the Republican Party's social- and foreign-policy conservatism probably works with Cuban-Americans but not with Mexican-Americans. The reason is that Mexican-American voters are motivated primarily by economic concerns. "We always ask, 'What are the most important problems facing Mexican-Americans in your community?'" Brischetto said. "Unemployment comes up. Inflation came up in 1984. For Mexican-Americans, the issues that really count are the economic ones." That is why they continue to vote heavily Democratic. It is also why, as Tarrance pointed out, Republicans are making inroads "among upwardly mobile, urban Hispanic voters, those in the second or third generation from entry--the small businessman, the small insurance agent, the small doctor." What the data suggest is that Hispanics are behaving more or less like traditional American ethnic groups. Those who are moving in vote Democratic. Those who are moving up vote increasingly Republican.

Tarrance described Texas's leading Hispanic politician, the San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros, as "a very precious commodity." He explained, "He talks like a Republican, he has the air of a Republican, but he's a Democrat." Ronnie Dugger described Cisneros as "a moderate liberal with strong connections to the Anglo business community." Dugger added, "He's a technocrat. He's a compromiser. He's a consensus-seeker." "I always knew the first Chicano governor of Texas would be an 'Aggie,' " Molly Ivins said, referring to Texas A&M, Cisneros's alma mater and a bastion of good ole-boy Texas conservatism. The political consultant George Shipley called Cisneros "a Tory Democrat" who has been "elevated to the status of an institution."

What could be more appealing to national Democrats than a Hispanic politician who doesn't frighten the white establishment? In fact, Cisneros was one of the candidates Walter Mondale interviewed for the vice presidential nomination in 1984. "He is the anointed," Ivins said, "as Barbara Jordan was once the anointed black woman."

Cisneros might make an interesting choice for the Democratic ticket in 1988. After all, Texas is a critical state. His nomination as Vice President would keep Jesse Jackson quiet. Jackson couldn't utter a word of protest about putting a Hispanic on the ticket, any more than he could complain about Mondale's choice of Geraldine Ferraro, in 1984: that's the whole idea behind the Rainbow Coalition. Moreover, a Cisneros candidacy could be the key to mobilizing the vast unregistered Hispanic electorate concentrated in states of some electoral importance, like California, New York, Illinois, Florida, and Texas. There is one big drawback to the idea, however: even though, by disposition, Dukakis is really a New England Yankee and Cisneros is a southern Tory (they both have degrees from Harvard), a Dukakis-Cisneros ticket might be a little too spicy for the American electorate to digest.

If you want evidence that Texas really has changed, consider this: liberals are not winning just Democratic primaries in Texas. They are winning general elections as well. The big breakthrough came in 1982, when a whole slate of progressive Democrats won statewide office: Jim Mattox as attorney general, Ann Richards as state treasurer, Jim Hightower as agriculture commissioner, and Garry Mauro as land commissioner. The Democratic sweep went all the way up to the top of the ballot--Lloyd Bentsen for senator, William Hobby for lieutenant governor (both closer to the mold of traditional Tory Democrats), and Mark White for governor (a moderate). Not only were liberals elected but they were all re-elected in 1986, when White lost the governorship. Several of them have signaled an intention to move up in 1990. Hightower intends to challenge Phil Gramm for the Senate, while Mattox and Richards will be running against each other in the Democratic primary for governor.

George Christian said, "1982 was the first time liberals won the down ballot races." What explains their success? To begin with, 1982 was a good year for Democrats nationwide. The country was experiencing the worst recession since the 1930s, and the Democrats made a net gain of twenty-six seats in the House of Representatives. There was also the fact that the Texas liberals faced weak Republican opponents.

Lance Tarrance's theory is that "lower-level offices are not ideological. It's hard to make an ideological statement about the land commissioner, or even the state treasurer." He believes that liberals can win statewide elections at the "administrative" level but not at the "representational" level, the level at which political leaders have to represent the "cultural life space" of Texas. No office is more representational than the presidency. That is why it may be hard to infer from the success of liberals in down-ballot races that a liberal presidential ticket can carry Texas in 1988. In fact, Tarrance argues that presidential years are the hardest on Texas liberals. "They have to run with the national party," he said, "and they're unmasked by their colleagues up in Washington."

When I put Tarrance's theory to Molly Ivins, her response captured the long-suffering nature of Texas liberalism. "During my entire lifetime in this state," she said, "you could go along for year after year without a single candidate on the ballot that a progressive Democrat could vote for with any enthusiasm. Those of us who are liberal Democrats in this state are simply artists at discerning the shades, the hairline differences that prove that one sorry troglodyte is a trifle better than the next. We are just the best people in the world at sorting out the lesser of two evils. So for us to have this much talent in statewide political office is just mind-boggling. To say they can't break through, hell, they never even broke into office before. How do we know they can't go up? We have no idea."

There is one other reason why the Democrats did so well in 1982, and it is one that is relevant to 1988 as well. In 1982 "you had Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Hobby spending millions of dollars to turn the vote out for the whole Democratic ticket," Christian explained. "It worked. They elected Mark White. They elected the whole Democratic slate. It was the first time ever that the Democrats mounted a well-financed get-out-the-vote effort." Virtually every Texan I spoke to was in awe of what he or she called the "Bentsen machine." George Shipley told me that he worked for Bentsen's campaign in 1976, when Jimmy Carter carried Texas. "The Carter guys came to us every morning and took their orders. Carter did not say a thing impacting Texas without clearing it with Bentsen. It was very much a subservient role. Bentsen called the shots, and Carter basically said, 'I'm for Lloyd Bentsen.'" Bentsen carried Texas with 57 percent. Carter carried Texas with 51 percent.

Bentsen is up for re-election in 1988. I asked John Kelsey, the Republican fund-raiser, whether Bentsen could pull a Democratic presidential ticket through this year. "He would definitely have an effect, without any question," Kelsey said. "He would have a significant effect on turnout. If you had a man running against Bentsen, he wouldn't pull as many votes on the Republican side as Bentsen would pull on the Democratic side." Kelsey admitted that the Republicans would probably not give a lot of support to Bentsen's opponent this year, "simply because a tough Bentsen race might bring out a lot of Democratic voters and endanger the Republican presidential ticket." "The presidential ticket has to be acceptable to Bentsen," George Shipley said. "That's the bottom line in Texas. The finest organization in this state is the one that's principally Lloyd Bentsen's and is shared in part with Bill Hobby. It's the Tory Democratic organization. The first guy who put it together was Lyndon Johnson. The second generation was John Connally. The third and fourth generation has been Lloyd Bentsen."

When I spoke to Jack Martin, the Bentsen operative, he confirmed what Shipley had said. "Yes, there's a structure," Martin said. "Senator Bentsen has maintained coordinators in all two hundred fifty-four counties year in and year out. He keeps a well-oiled organization in place at the grass roots level." I asked him about 1988. "If we have a serious, well-funded opponent, we'll do everything we can not just to beat him but to beat him soundly. One effect will be that voter turnout will increase. Lots of people will be beneficiaries of that." Martin explained that that is exactly what happened in 1982. "We put together one of the most sophisticated pay-to get-out-the-vote mechanisms in the country at that time. It had never been done in Texas on the Democratic side. Clements had introduced it in 1978. We took the same strategy and moved it over to the Democratic side. I think it's fair to say that Senator Bentsen's organization and his phone banks and his campaign pushed the turnout way up and caused everybody on that ballot to benefit."

Bentsen's opponent this year, Representative Beau Boulter, from the Texas Panhandle, does not look very formidable. But, Jack Martin acknowledged, "we've got this presidential thing above us." A strong Bush vote could very well endanger Bentsen's re-election, even against a weak opponent. As Lance Tarrance put it, "If anybody should be scared, it ought to be Bentsen, especially if the state goes for the national Republican ticket by a margin of 500,000 votes or more." According to Shipley, a "united front" campaign worked in 1982 and it could work again in 1988. "The day Carter lost, Bentsen got very serious about his 1982 re-election," Shipley said. "Bentsen and Hobby decided a year in advance that they were going to run an integrated, united Democratic effort and that they were going to bring a Democratic governor to Texas. The messages were tailored all the way down. Fifteen congressmen participated in it, and we got the vote out."

"Dukakis could win Texas," Shipley said, "provided that during the nominating campaign and immediately thereafter he communicates the proper messages to the leadership of this state. He has to show Democrats in the business community that he can do business in Texas. Maybe promise to have a summit meeting on energy policy within the first thirty days of his Administration. If the united-front scenario is there, it's do able."

For all the changes in Texas, certain themes remain constant. One is a certain "meanness," a ten-gallon ferocity in Texas politics. You can find throbbing veins of it in both parties. John Hildreth, of Common Cause, sees it in the Democrat Jim Mattox and in the Republican Phil Gramm. "They are so much alike in style," he said. "They don't just want to beat you. They want to knock you down and then stomp on you." Shipley offered a broader interpretation of the meanness of Texas politics. "There is more tolerance for social inequality in Texas than in any other state," he said. "What we do here for the mentally retarded and the mentally ill is a disgrace. What we do in the way of health care for the poor and the uninsured is a disgrace. What we do here in the way of our prison system is a disgrace. Our supreme court is a national joke."

I got the flavor of what Shipley was talking about when I interviewed George Strake, the chairman of the Texas Republican Party. Strake was complaining that "if we don't learn to curtail some of our spending habits in Texas, we're going to end up like the federal government." I reminded him that the courts had condemned the Texas prison system and the system for treating the mentally retarded as unconstitutional, and that they were threatening to do the same with the system for funding public education.

"I'm not a prison expert," Strake said, "but I can tell you that the Ferguson unit that houses the eighteen- to twenty-one-year-olds has a better cafeteria and a better chapel than I had when I was in college. They have training facilities for auto repair, for road making, for TV repair, for barbering, for law. I think we have gone overboard on facilities for prisoners."

Meanness has deep roots in Texas politics, but so does another, quite different quality--namely, populism. As Shipley pointed out, the populist strain shows up in the structure of Texas government: "very divided authority, very weak governor and so forth." The current master of Texas populism is Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower. "There's no doubt that he's one of the most clever politicians around in terms of using the media to attract attention," Hildreth said. "He's funny. Talk about people laughing. But that's also how people notice you and respond to you. He has a very faithful core of support around the state, primarily responding to his populist message."

"What Hightower has done in the agriculture department," Hildreth explained, "is take a lazy, good-for-nothing agency that checked scales and eggs and killed fire ants and turned it into a center for economic development. He's been very successful with the blue-collar redneck voter." Hightower was also the only white statewide-elected official to endorse Jesse Jackson for President this year. The 1990 Senate race will determine whether left-wing populism is a serious force in Texas, or whether Hightower is, as Jack Raines described him, "all boots and belt buckle." In any case, the contest between Hightower and Gramm will be a classic Texas showdown: the leading Texas populist versus the meanest politician in Texas.

Tim Richardson argues that the populist economic theme could be a powerful one for the Democrats in 1988. He thinks that the Republicans are vulnerable in Texas because of their stubborn ideological insistence on free-market policies. "Gramm calls a lot of the shots in the Republican Party," Richardson said, "and I think he's out of step with one basic thing: government has a role in rebuilding the state economy. That idea is anathema to him. He refuses to offer any kind of governmental solution to an economy that is in depression conditions in many parts of this state." The Texas populist tradition goes back to Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn. "There is a big constituency for government-assisted economic development measures," Richardson says. "I think the constituency is there for defending state services."

The Democrats could win an important prize if they offered an economic development message. "The Republicans," Richardson says, "are alienating the business community. Business realizes that the future labor force is being shredded by rotten services, high dropout rates, crime, drugs, poor education, and illiteracy." Let the Republicans run on low taxes. The Democrats will run on making Texas a first-class state.

If Richardson's economic-development theme sounds familiar, it is because that's exactly what Michael Dukakis says he did in Massachusetts -use government in collaboration with business to direct resources and manage economic growth. Can the Democrats sell a northeastern urban ethnic liberal in Texas--against an oilman and a favorite son? The conventional wisdom in Texas is no.

"Unless Bush falls on his face," George Christian said, "I can't imagine him not carrying Texas." Lance Tarrance told me that Mark White once said when he was governor that the Democrats could hold Texas with respect to statewide offices. "But as for the Democrats holding Texas for the national party, White said, 'I can't do that.'"

Shipley warned, however, that it would be a mistake for Democrats to write Texas off as "an automatic Bush state." "The conventional wisdom might be to do that. But Bush is not perceived as a winner in Texas." There are any number of reasons why the Democrats have a chance to carry Texas this year. Texas is no longer as parochial as it used to be. Jack Martin said, "This state is capable of getting caught up in a national discussion of the issues. That was clearly the case when Carter beat Ford here. And it was clearly the case when Reagan beat Carter. Reagan beat a southerner in this state. To me, that really had nothing to do with the campaign these two men ran in Texas. It had to do with Texans being part of the national discussion." It helps that Michael Dukakis is a relatively safe Democrat with a non-ideological style and a strong economic development message. It helps that the economic situation in Texas is drastic. It helps that there is a strong national mood for change. And it helps most of all that Lloyd Bentsen is up for re-election.

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William Schneider is the Cable News Network's senior political analyst. He is also a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times, National Journal, and The Atlantic Monthly. His column appears every week in National Journal, a weekly magazine covering politics and government published in Washington, D.C.

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