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The Texas GOP, I: What chance in ’78? By Douglas S. Harlan I Ray Barnhart Ray Hutchison San Antonio The time of atonement is past for Texas Republicans. In 1978 they will not lose elections because of Watergate or Jerry Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon. Such punishment as Texas voters felt they had to mete out to the GOP because of Watergate has been seen to, and if the party boots its chance in 1978 it will be for reasons other than the storied scandal. Republican chances in Texas next year are bright, but they must be measured in the context of the party’s minority status. Under the present 101-yearold state constitution, Texans have held 51 general elections. In a century of balloting, there have been more than 400 opportunities for Republicans to elect a candidate to some statewide executive office. Since 1876, however, no Republican has won such a poSt. Other than three presidential candidates \(Hoover in 1928, Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, and Nixon has won a general election in Texas as a Republican. Republicans have fared little better at other levels of competition. The Texas GOP has made substantial progress in recent years, though the party still holds only two of the state’s 24 seats in the U.S. Congress, 18 of 150 state House seats and three of 31 state Senate seats. Only eight of 254 county tax assessorcollectors are Republicans; only one of 254 county clerkships and 15 of 1,016 county commission seats are occupied by Republicans. Past strategy Republican efforts throughout most of the party’s recent history in Texas have been directed toward national politics. The state party’s leadership has been oriented toward the federal government and federal policies, and state and local government have taken a back seat. The explanation for the national orientation may lie primarily in the leftward drift of federal government policies, a drift which has not been so dramatic at the state and local level. As a result, the Texas party’s predominant concerns have been in carrying Texas for the GOP’s presidential candidates and holding onto John Tower’s Senate seat. the party a strong competitor for state and local offices has focused on the top: win the governorship and, the assumption has been, Texas will have arrived as a two-party state. Despite close races for governor by Jack Cox \(against John against Hank Grover \(against Dolph Briscoe in the big one. Republicans at the precinct level have begun to question the validity of this “trickle down from the top” approach to growth and have concentrated on efforts to build a base for the party at the local level. Under the leadership of recently resigned state committee chairman Ray Hutchison, the state party has for the first time devoted substantial resources to key county and legislative races and to a local program of candidate recruitment and training. One long-time Republican worker says the program “falls far short of what it ought to be, but at least it represents an important reorientation of priorities.” Aeim e13 Aq suo9 e4 sni THE TEXAS OBSERVER