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Molly Ivins on Carrying Texas

Texas Democrats, not having won since Jimmy Carter, are a little afraid to dream.


Editor’s Note: This month, we’re reprinting some of our favorite Molly Ivins columns in celebration of her birth month and the upcoming wide release of Raise Hell: The Life & Times Of Molly Ivins, the documentary about her life. This column from 1995 remains prescient today.

by Molly Ivins
October 25, 1996

All over Texas, Democrats are saying to one another, “Do you think that…? Nah, forget it.” “What?” “Do you really think…well…that Clinton might carry Texas?” “Nah, forget it.” “But he might.” “He could.” “I think he will.” “You DO?” “Well, maybe.”

Texas Democrats are a little afraid to dream: after all, it has been twenty years since they carried the state. And the last time they did it before that was in ’68 for Humphrey, as a courtesy to Lyndon. Two years ago, President Clinton’s favorable ratings in Texas were in the 20s, and his unfaves were in the 60s. Any Democrat willing to speak up for Clinton felt like an early Mormon, if not an actual leper. Our booby-hatch right-wing radio talk-show guys routinely described the president as a murderer and all-round moral sewer.

By early this year, Clinton’s Texas faves had edged all the way up to the 30s. A Texas Poll in May showed Dole with a 16-point lead. By late summer, Clinton had drawn even. By all known standards of political history, he should coast home. That kind of momentum is killer-hard to stop.

But Texas Democrats can scarcely bring themselves to hope.

“But what if we did win?”

Molly Ivins, The Texas Observer

“They’d give us a good hotel for the convention: it would be horrible.”

Texas Democrats, not having won since Jimmy Carter, are accustomed to getting bad hotels at national conventions. The memorable Hotel Hell in New York in ’92 was perhaps the worst, but the management at this summer’s Hotel That Shall Remain Nameless in Chicago was actually ill-advised enough to try throwing the multiracial White Trash Caucus out of the hotel bar just because it was 3 a.m. An unseemly upset ensued.

Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, Clinton’s main man in Texas, said, “If we win, I bet they’ll let us a choose a bad hotel if we want one.”

One person who thinks Bill Clinton can carry Texas is Bill Clinton. According to Mauro, Clinton is making all the calls on the Lone Star State himself. After his event here in June, he sent out a memo saying he didn’t want to see any more position or discussion papers without Texas on the targeted list. Clinton’s staff tried to cut his recent Texas swing down to a minimum, but the president kept adding more events. He left Washington at 5:45 a.m. to come to Texas and was fifteen minutes early at the airport. Since he is notoriously not early, Mauro teased him about it, and Clinton replied, “I’m always early when I really want to go somewhere.”

With positively magnificent disdain, Mauro notes that the Republican response to the president’s Texas visit was to send in the governor of New Hampshire. “Texans,” Mauro announced sweepingly, “do not care about the governor of New Hampshire.” The R’s are in same pickle in Texas as they are in Florida. If they spend enough money to stay competitive, they won’t have any money for anywhere else. This state is a brute for sucking up political money—twenty-eight media markets. Clinton chose not to spend money here in ’92 and still lost by only three points, 40-37, but only because of the Perot factor.

Well, if Clinton can carry Texas, ask the nervously hopeful Democrats, what about Victor Morales? Then, they all think about Phil Gramm and his millions and say, “Nah, forget it.”

One person who thinks Bill Clinton can carry Texas is Bill Clinton.

“Victor,” as everyone calls him (an interesting example of the first-name pol vs. last-name pol phenomenon: Gramm is still a last-name pol after all these years, known to his associates as “the senator”), is a problem. True, he is the most shiningly sincere Little Guy candidate since Mr. Smith Went to Washington. However, he is hopelessly politically naive and does not listen to the pros.

Having firmly grasped the elementary principle that many people in politics are ruthless scum, Victor is determined to have nothing to do with them. But a campaign is a communal enterprise: no one can run one alone. And the members of Victor’s campaign staff, such as it is, consider taking on a long-shot Democrat rather noble of them and are having a very hard time getting through to Victor. They are, in a word, frustrated. They cannot convince him he cannot win by continuing to campaign out of the back of his pick-up truck. All hands are agreed it would help if they had money. Rumors of aid from national sources float about, but no money arrives.

The very things that make Victor so exasperating also make him endearing. He was so rattled at actually campaigning with the president in Texas that when asked how he thought he’d done after the first stop, he replied honestly, “At least I didn’t pass out.” On the other hand, by the third stop, he was at the top of his form. He may be naive, but he ain’t dumb.

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