COVER

TRYING TO WIN THE HEART OF TEXAS

IAN AUSTEN March 7 1988
COVER

TRYING TO WIN THE HEART OF TEXAS

IAN AUSTEN March 7 1988

TRYING TO WIN THE HEART OF TEXAS

COVER

The Lord moves in mysterious ways in

Texarkana, Tex. Next to a highway and on the border with Arkansas sits a sign in

front of The Blue Jean Store. Its message: “God loves you going out of business sale.” This year Texans are invoking God in politics as well as in business, as retired army colonel Nathan Reiter recently discovered. In his role as Bowie County Republican Party chairman, Reiter drove presidential hopeful Representative Jack Kemp of New York from the airport to an auditorium at Texarkana College last year. A disappointing crowd of about 100 met the congressman. Last month, Reiter said, he was astonished to learn that seven times as many people had

swarmed into Texarkana’s Church on the Rock to listen to a speech delivered by Adelia Robertson, on behalf of her husband, the fundamentalist former television preacher and Republican contender, Marion (Pat) Robertson. Declared Reiter: “The people who are voting for Pat Robertson should have an impact throughout the state, even though most of them were never interested in the primary before.” Variations: The growing support for Robertson in Texarkana may not prove to be true for the rest of Texas. In a poll published in the Houston Chronicle last Thursday, only six per cent favored him. But the Lone Star State’s myriad regional, racial, economic and social variations make it unsafe to predict the outcome on Super Tuesday, when 20 states—most of them in the South— hold a series of primary elections. Certainly, none of the contenders can afford to neglect Texas, which—with 183 Democratic and 111 Republican delegates at stake—has the largest number of Super Tuesday votes.

Jewel: But if Texas is the jewel of Super Tuesday, in the mid-1970s it was the economic gem of the entire country. Unemployed autoworkers in Detroit and the other cities of the industrial North mobbed newsstands for copies of Texas newspapers, bulging with help-wanted advertisements. But since 1982, the collapse of oil and agricultural prices, along with the maturing of the electronics industry in the northeast, has dealt the state a series of devastating blows. Last year Texas had a net loss of population for the first time in its history. And a silent run by depositers on its I largest bank, First Republic Bank of Dallas,

last week stirred rumors—quickly denied—of a possible federal government bailout. The bank’s troubles are symptomatic of Texas’s current slump. Real-estate loans made in the good times have already bankrupted about 100 of the state’s savings and loans institutions and threaten at least one other major bank.

Signs of the slump are visible everywhere. The dazzling downtown skylines of Dallas, Houston and Austin conceal the highest vacancy rates in the country, with up to one-third of office floor space empty. Meanwhile, activity on the oil rigs along the Gulf Coast remains low due to depressed oil prices. But perhaps the most prominent symbol of the state’s economic decline is the three-term ex-governor of Texas, John Connally. In 1980 Connally had a net worth of at least $5.8 million, making him the wealthiest of the candidates then seeking the Republican presidential nomination. This year began with an auction of Connally’s personal belongings as part of his multimillion-dollar bankruptcy proceedings. Like many less prominent Texans, Connally was ruined by unsound real-estate investments.

Blameless: Few Texans seem to blame President Ronald Reagan or Vice-President George Bush for the state’s economic problems. Last Thursday’s Houston Chronicle poll gave Bush 60 per cent of the Republi-

can primary vote in Texas, with Senator Robert Dole—whose Texas campaign has been low-key—trailing badly with only 15 per cent.

Moderate: Although the New England-born Bush is only a Texan by adoption—and is more moderate politically than many Texans—he is the state’s favorite son. And the Democrats, like his Republican rivals, have reason to fear the implications of that fact. Said Jim Boynton, the Democrats’ Texas

H§| primary director: “Texans see him as our Yankee.” A long line of powerful Texans in Washington—including President Lyndon Johnson and current House of Representatives Speaker Jim Wright—have consistently delivered jobs to Texas through agriculture programs, military contracts and installations, as well as the space program.

Benefits: Indeed, Bush’s potential to provide special benefits extends his appeal to those who might not otherwise vote for him. Although George McAfee, a 30year-old black who teaches first aid for the Red Cross in Houston, g says that he likes Rev. 5 Jesse Jackson—the most I liberal of the Demo“ crats—he may give his o vote to Bush. Said McA| fee: “Jackson gets his £ points across well, but I z don’t think he has a chance. I don’t want to waste my vote. Bush might get it just because I want someone from Texas.”

But the complex rules of the Republican primary could mean that Bush’s delegate count from Texas ultimately may not be as impressive as the number of votes he polls. Although in each electoral district candidates will be awarded delegates relative to their vote results, any candidate winning more than half the votes will pick up all three of the

district’s delegates. That arrangement should benefit Bush where he is strongest, in areas such as Houston. But it creates an opening for his rivals in rural Texas, where—because there are so few registered Republicans—only a minimal effort is needed to register new Republicans who could easily give their favorite 50 per cent of the primary vote in their district.

Meanwhile, as it is nationally, the Democratic picture in Texas looks confused. Representative Richard Gephardt’s protectionist trade message has apparently scored well with industrial workers. But last week’s Houston Chronicle poll put him in third place— behind Jackson and Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis—with 15 per cent of the vote. Jackson, with 19 per cent, appears to have the solid backing of the black community. But blacks make up only 12 per cent of the state’s population, and Jackson is now trying to win support among university students and urban white liberals. At the same time, Dukakis—the overall Democratic frontrunner, who scored 18 per cent in the Chronicle poll—is concentrating on the arid Rio Grande Valley, where he has been endorsed by many of the Hispanic leaders who dominate the local political scene.

Hard-line: As in most of the southern Super Tuesday states, the greatest uncertainty hangs over Senator Albert Gore of Tennessee. Gore has shunned the northern and Midwestern primaries to concentrate on campaigning as a regional favorite son in the South. His hard-line foreign policy positions are shared by many Texas Democrats, and the state party’s establishment seems to favor him. A single fund-raising dinner in Dallas last month raised almost $1 million. But some of Gore’s supporters say that they fear he may already have been left behind, and the Chronicle poll gave him only 12 per cent of the Democratic primary vote. Even George Strong, Gore’s campaign co-ordinator in Houston, admitted last week that he has hedged his bets by making donations to the rival Gephardt and Dukakis campaigns.

Such ambivalence may be no more than a reflection of the diversity that lies deep in the heart of present-day Texas. And as Kevin Moomaw, Bush’s Texas political director, put it: “The one thing every candidate has to do is get the Hollywood Texas out of their minds. If they put the cowboy boots and hat on as they cross the state line they won’t fool anybody.” It sounded like a warning, which all the presidential hopefuls— especially those from the North—may listen to carefully.

IAN AUSTEN