Can White paint Perry as Palin in boots?
Or, will Republicans’ lockstep opposition to President Obama’s health care plan backfire?
Those questions await answers in November. But the national political mood can affect state elections – including Democrat Bill White’s effort to halt Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s reign at 10 years instead of 14.
The national mood has influenced most Texas governor races since 1978, when the Democrats’ lock on the Texas governorship was broken after more than a century.
In 1978, Democratic President Jimmy Carter was in his second year. His positive numbers were falling, while his negatives climbed along with interest rates.
Texas Atty. Gen. John Hill had won the Democratic nomination over incumbent Gov. Dolph Briscoe, and the presumption was that he’d win in November.
The Republican nominee, Dallas oil driller William P. Clements Jr., at a joint appearance in Amarillo, said, “I’m going to hang Jimmy Carter around John Hill’s neck like a dead chicken.”
Clements pulled out a plucked chicken, head still on. He pitched the bird toward Hill, but it fell in the lap of the mayor’s wife. Turned out the chicken was rubber.
Clements put $7 million of his own money into his campaign, and got 49.96 percent to Hill’s 49.24. Minor candidates got the rest.
As Republicans approached the 1982 elections, the economy was in a slump, and so were they. Their new president, Ronald Reagan, had unseated Carter in 1980. But the recession, plus fears Reagan would cut Social Security, spelled trouble.
In Texas, Atty. Gen. Mark White won the Democratic nomination to take on Clements. And with the help of a Democratic coordinated campaign, White upset Clements, 53 to 46 percent.
The governor’s race of 1986 proved an exception. The national mood was good for Democrats. But Oil Patch states like Texas saw the price of oil decline dramatically, and the economy with it.
White had to break his campaign promise against a tax hike to keep his promise to raise teacher salaries. But he required teachers to take a competency test. They turned on him, and in a rematch, Clements reversed the 1982 percentages, winning 53-46.
In 1990, Republican President George H. W. Bush’s first mid-term, the national climate was good for Democrats. State Treasurer Ann Richards, the Democrat for governor, got almost 100,000 votes more than favored Republican Clayton Williams Jr., winning 49.5 percent to 46.9.
Richards was favored for re-election in 1994, over Republican nominee George W. Bush, whose dad lost the White House in 1992 to Democrat Bill Clinton.
But Clinton lost a bitter battle to overhaul health care. His approval rating was tanking. And, Democrats in Congress drew fire from gun owners because a crime bill included a ban on assault weapons.
Newt Gingrich led a Republican effort that switched more than 50 House seats to put the GOP in charge for the first time in 40 years. The Republicans also regained control of the Senate for the first time since 1986.
And Bush beat Richards, 53.5 to 45.9 percent.
In 1998, the national climate was hard to read. Democrats swung five seats in the House. But in Texas, Bush vastly outspent Democrat Garry Mauro, winning 68.2 to 31.2 percent.
Bush was elected president in 2000, and on Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington vastly altered his presidency.
In 2002, Bush successfully made the election a referendum on him, even though he wasn’t on the ballot. Republican candidates rushed to have their pictures taken with him, and the GOP made House and Senate gains rare for a president’s first off-year election.
And Rick Perry, who’d moved up from lieutenant governor after Bush went to Washington, easily was elected over Democrat Tony Sanchez, 57.8 percent to 40.
After the Bush administration’s bungled response to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans in 2005, and with public sentiment souring on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, GOP candidates were avoiding Bush rather than courting him.
The Democrats in 2006 regained control of the House and Senate. Perry won another four years as governor, though with just 39 percent, as Democrat Chris Bell, independents Carole Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman, and a Libertarian and a write-in split the rest.
For now, the wind seems to favor the Republicans – including Perry. But unlike Clinton, Obama won his health care battle.
If Republicans accept his dare to try to repeal it, and if White can paint Perry as Sarah Palin in cowboy boots, November could be interesting.
Contact McNeely at davemcneely111@gmail. com or (512) 458-2963.