Page 2


advantage, thanks both to Lubbock \(though the conservative city was little rural towns like Plainview and Hereford and Dimmit. Though their numbers were falling, the cotton and grain farmers and the ranchers who scraped their livings off the windy high plains could still outvote Midland’s yuppies. Year after year the farmers had reelected Mahon, a conservative Democrat who’d held his seat in Congress since 1934 when the District was first drawn, and who wielded considerable influence as the head of the Appropriations Committee and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. It was his power more than his party affiliation that had kept him in Washington: “Mahon was good for constituent services, and he had pretty much run on a personal structure as opposed to depending on the Democratic Party,” because his views ran to the right of the party mainstream, says Neale Pearson, a professor emeritus of political science at Texas Tech. The district, meanwhile, had voted 58 percent to 42 percent for Ford over Carter in the 1976 Presidential election. So it was not impossible for a Republican to win the seat. “Once [former governor and Nixon Treasury Secretary] John Connally switched parties [in 1973] then everybody kind of started switching,” says Otice Green, a Lubbock political consultant and Hance’s campaign strategist. Former Odessa mayor Jim Reese, a Republican, had challenged Mahon in the 1976 race and won 45 percent of the vote. Two years later, “Republicans were taking over,” says Green. “It was a big turnover year.” \(It was also the year Bill Clements, the first Republican governor since Reconwas the existence of a core group of Ronald Reagan supporters in the district, who would not support George W. Bush for fear of indirectly helping his father, then a Reagan rival. Reese, who’d moved to Odessa in the fifties to work as a television sportscaster, declared again for the primary race in ’78, facing Bush and a third candidate who forced Bush and Reese into a runoff. “George W. and I agreed on most of the issues,” recalls Reese, now president of an Odessa oilfield supply company called T-Rex Technologies. “I don’t know that there were any philosophical differences.” Yet newspaper accounts from the time make it clear that Reese posed as the harder-line conservative. He denounced Bush’s father for his affiliation with the C.I.A. and the internationalist Trilateral Commission, and at one point brought in two obscure Republican operatives from Oklahoma to help paint Bush as a softie. Reese also sent out a letter complaining that Bush had “Rockefeller-type Republicans such as Karl Rove to help him run his campaign.” \(Forced to reply, Bush valiantly announced his opposition to one-world government, suggested that the views of the two gentlemen from Oklahoma were irrelevant to the campaign, and denied that Rove, who is now his chief strategist, was involved in the race. Rove “is a 27-year-old guy who works in my Dad’s office in Houston…. He has had nothing to do with my campaign,” Bush told the Midland Reporter-Telegram, adding that “I The Democratic primary was equally colorful: Hance easily defeated Morris Sheats, a charismatic preacher recently returned from a sojourn to Jerusalem, where he reportedly had been advised by none other than God himself to run for the United States Congress. In the Republican, runoff, Reese took sixteen of seven 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER teen counties, but Bush prevailed strongly enough in Midland date. The Bush campaign moved its headquarters to Lubbock: if he was to have a chance at winning, Bush needed to chip away at Hance’s base of support in the northern part of the district. The seventies saw major changes in the way campaigns were conducted across the country. In its 1978 elections roundup, Time magazine would assert, “Money, computers, polls, and image makers continued to change the face of American politics into something that would have been unrecognizable to the candidates even a few years ago.” With O’Neill as his finance chairman, Bush would raise just shy of $435,000 \(compared to Hance’s $314,000, both candidates used computer-assisted poll analysis to fine-tune their strategies. Still, the art of running for Congress was not yet as media-driven as it is today, and Bush “was a tireless campaigner,” recalls Mike Weiss, a Lubbock resident who volunteered to work for Bush after meeting the candidate in a shopping center. “He would do breakfast in one town, lunch in another, gatherings in the evening.” He knocked on doors and attended coffees, barbecues, living-room receptions. According to Gary Ott, who was then a reporter for the Plainview Daily Herald, Bush stopped by the paper’s little office “maybe five or six times. He’d sit down at my desk; he was a fun guy. He was very outgoing, very friendly, and we would argue politics since I was a liberal. We’d argue over Carter policies.” Bush criticized energy policy, federal land use policy, subsidized housing, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration \(“a would go bust in ten years unless people were given a chance to invest the money themselves. None of this really distinguished him from Hance, though, so in the end Bush simply argued that a Republican could better represent the district: “If you want a chance in the way Congress has been run, send someone who will be independent from those who will run the Congress.” It was the differences in their backgrounds that set the two candidates apart. Lana Cunningham, who covered the Bush-Hance race for the Reporter-Telegram, recalls that in Midland, “oil prices were going up, people were moving in, a lot of young professionals. George had so many supporters, all these young professionals getting jobs in the oil business.” Hance, meanwhile, was “the West Texas storyteller,” says Cunningham. He’d been raised in Dimmitt; he’d taught at Texas Tech and served in the Legislature; and his campaign emphasized Bush’s East Coast connections and Ivy League education. “Bush was into He didn’t know anything about farm coun try,” says Ott. This, along with his lack of campaign experience, got him into trouble on at least one occasion, when he spoke before a large political science class at Texas Tech. “He started to talk about his views, his policies,” recalls one West Texas attorney who was a student in the class. “It was during the time of the grain embargo with the Russians, and a substantial number of people up here were more interested in selling grain than fighting Communism.” “George Bush said that he would strongly fight for the elimination of the embargo, and then for whatever reason, he decided he needed to talk about how evil Communism was, and how the Cuba JUNE 25, 1999