Although this article will reach readers some three months before the general election, here is one prediction that can be taken to the bank: Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will defeat sitting president Barack Obama in Texas. The observation here is that it really doesn't matter whether Romney's running mate is Marco Rubio or Marco Polo. The only unanswered question at this point is the margin of victory. This writer will be somewhat surprised if President Obama matches his 2008 mark in the Lone Star state which was about 43%. In case it slipped your mind, that mark was achieved in the contest against the rather lackluster GOP standard bearer, Senator John McCain of Arizona.
Despite Texas’ status as one of eleven states that left the Union in 1861 to form the Confederate States of America, it, and most of its southern sister states, remained largely Democratic for much of the 20th century. Since World War II, however, Texas has supported the Democratic nominee in only four of twelve presidential contests. The last Democratic presidential win in Texas was 1976 when little-known former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter unseated President Gerald R. Ford.
Carter was a small town peanut farmer, a born-again Christian and a close personal friend (through meetings of the Governor's Association) of Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe. The conservative Democrat Briscoe helped Carter carry many of Texas’ rural counties. President Ford had at least a couple of strikes against him: he had pardoned the disgraced President Nixon, who had picked Ford to succeed Vice President Spiro Agnew, forced from office by corruption.
In all likelihood, his more egregious sin was that this brawny athletic Michigander, a member of US House for twenty-five years, had tried to eat a tamale in a photo op in front of the Alamo. Problem was, his advance team failed to tell him that before you eat the Texas treat, you first have to remove the shuck. Bulbs flashed and headlines screamed and poor ol’ Jerry never recovered.
In the exciting 1960 election, the main political stage featured the large, imposing figure of native son Lyndon B. Johnson of Blanco as the vice presidential nominee, running with fellow Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Most political scientists have noted that very few vice presidential tickets have really done much to bolster the ticket. A majority of these academicians do agree that Kennedy, as a Roman Catholic, would not have prevailed in Texas without having Johnson as his running mate. Johnson served eleven years in the US House (winning a special election in 1937) before winning the Senate seat in 1948. Just four years later he became the Senate Majority Leader.
When Kennedy fell to assassin Lee Harvey Oswald's bullets in Dallas in 1963, Johnson became the 36th president. He was overwhelmingly elected in his own right in 1964, beating Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, the GOP nominee. Johnson carried all but 14 of the state's 254 counties.
Johnson's vice presidential choice was long-time Senate colleague, Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota. When Humphrey was the Democratic nominee in 1968 (Johnson had shocked the nation with his March statement that he would not seek reelection), the old Johnson Democratic machine (including the sitting Governor John Connally) rallied to Humphrey's side. Humphrey beat Republican nominee Richard Nixon in Texas but Nixon won the national sweepstakes. Humphrey's win (or more likely, Nixon's loss) was significantly affected by the third party effort of former Alabama Governor George C. Wallace. In about twenty counties in Texas, largely in eastern Texas, Wallace had a plurality of the vote.
Then, with the advent of the Bush dynasty beginning in the 1980s and continuing through 2004, Texas’ red state status was never much in doubt in presidential contests. Nearly two decades have passed since the Democrats have had a winner on the statewide ballot.
In 1994, newcomer George W. Bush ousted incumbent Governor Ann W. Richards in a big upset. A trio of strong Ds from that election were Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, Comptroller John Sharp, and Attorney General Dan Morales. Bullock died in 1999, and Sharp was named by his once close friend (later his avowed political enemy and currently his trusted ally) Governor Rick Perry to be the Chancellor of Texas A&M University, the beloved alma mater of the star-crossed former country boys of the Class of 1972.
The last scenario of the Perry-Sharp relationship is worthy of at least a soap opera, if not a lengthy novel, but it is all true. While our state does not have a monopoly on colorful political characters and intrigue, it almost always a very entertaining proposition. But if you are looking for high drama on the first Tuesday this November, don't bother to look in Texas.
*Charles Stengel, better known as Casey, was the longtime manager of the champion New York Yankees and the lowly New York Mets, and a man of many pithy sayings.