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Twilight of the Texas Democrats

The 1978 Governor's Race

By Kenneth Bridges

Publication Year: 2008

In 1978, Republican William P. Clements won the race for governor of the Lone Star State, marking the start of an interlude of two-party competition in the state. Eventually, Republican ascendancy would once again make Texas a “safe” place for a single party—but not the party that had dominated the state since the end of Reconstruction. At the time, observers asked whether the election of a Republican governor was a mere flash in the pan. For the previous twenty years, other races, at every level from national to local, had made inroads into Democratic strongholds, but that party’s dominance by and large had held. In 1978, the situation changed. Now, historian Kenneth Bridges—drawing on polling data, newspaper reports, archival sources, and extensive interviews—both confirms the significance of the election and explains the many and complex forces at work in it. He analyzes a wide range of factors that includes the disaffection among Mexican American voters fanned by La Raza Unida, miscalculations by Democrat John Hill and his campaign staff, the superior polling techniques used by Clements, the unpopularity of the Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, the changing demographics of the state, and the unprecedented spending by the Clements team. In the process, Bridges describes not an ideological realignment among Texas voters, but a partisan one. Twilight of the Texas Democrats illuminates our understanding of both political science and regional history.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Front Matter

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pp. i-iv

CONTENTS

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pp. v-

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PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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pp. vii-viii

HISTORIANS OFTEN ARGUE whether the individual shapes the times or the times shape the individual. Political history often revolves around that question. The answer is not always clear. Why Texas voters rejected a century of political tradition in 1978 in favor of a Republican as governor stems from a combination of factors that had built over several decades in post–World War II Texas. Changes...

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Chapter 1. TEXAS IN 1978

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pp. 1-22

DESTINY CAN ARISE either out of the labor of men or out of the creations of some greater cosmic force. These philosophical questions of whether individuals make history or remain helpless to the forces of time frame many questions over the choices that societies make. Elections typically provide the opportunity for the people either to ratify the status quo or call for a change in...

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Chapter 2. THE DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION

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pp. 23-48

“I SAY IF THEY DON’T LIKE political jokes, they shouldn’t elect them,” quipped former Texas Gov. Preston Smith as he wandered the dusty political trails of West Texas.1 Texas politics had always managed to produce eccentric characters and campaigns replete with sometimes bizarre entertainment, either bitterly tragic or morbidly hilarious. The 1978 Democratic primary would...

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Chapter 3. A FAMILY AFFAIR: THE REPUBLICAN PRIMARY

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pp. 49-68

WITH EACH NEW ELECTION CYCLE, the hopes of Texas Republicans soared with the eager anticipation of a breakthrough year. But with each year, these hopes crumbled under the November election totals. Since John Tower’s upset victory in the special election to the United States Senate in 1961, the party had...

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Chapter 4. EYE OF THE STORM (includes images)

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pp. 69-82

“JOHN HILL WILL BE governor of Texas,” boasted the Texas Observer after Hill’s primary victory.1 Liberals and progressives across the state leaped for joy over the election results. Their champion, though an avowed moderate, seemed poised to reclaim the governor’s mansion from the conservatives for the first time since the Great Depression. From...

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Chapter 5. THE BEST-LAID PLANS

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pp. 83-111

BILL CLEMENTS HAD SEEN the early poll numbers circulating around the state. The first polls in late May showed Hill over Clements by 52 points. Clements laughed at the numbers and brushed them aside. Clements believed he would win by a comfortable margin that he repeated at every opportunity: “I’ll beat him about 53 percent...

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Chapter 6. “AND THE PEOPLE WIN EVERY TIME”: November 7, 1978

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pp. 112-123

VOTERS SURGED TO THE POLLS on that fateful Tuesday. Newspapers across the state exhorted Texas residents to vote. As the Houston Post argued, “If you do not vote today, you are handing your vote to the candidates you do not want to see in office.”1 Strong voter...

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Chapter 7. THE ONCE AND FUTURE GOVERNOR

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pp. 124-132

“THIS WAS A CAMPAIGN never to be repeated,” said David Dean.1 Praise and blame circulated around the state almost immediately to answer the question of why the election ended with a Republican victory. The drive and resources of the Bill Clements campaign had taken the state by storm, stunning observers with his victory....

Appendix A. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION TOTALS IN TEXAS, 1968-1988

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pp. 133-134

Appendix B. DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY RESULTS BY COUNTY

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pp. 135-141

Appendix C. 1978 GUBERNATORIAL ELECTION TOTALS AND PERCENTAGES

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pp. 142-148

Appendix D. DEMOCRATIC TURNOUT, 1978 GUBERNATORIAL ELECTION

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pp. 149-155

Appendix E. GUBERNATORIAL VOTING TRENDS, 1974-1982

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pp. 156-162

Appendix F. 1978 GENERAL ELECTION RESULTS BY COUNTY

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pp. 163-169

Appendix G. TEXAS VOTER REGISTRATION AND TURNOUT TOTALS, 1970-1990

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pp. 170-171

Appendix H. GUBERNATORIAL ELECTION RESULTS, 1968-1990

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pp. 172-173

NOTES

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pp. 175-202

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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pp. 203-210

INDEX

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pp. 211-219


E-ISBN-13: 9781603444088
E-ISBN-10: 1603444084
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603440097
Print-ISBN-10: 1603440097

Page Count: 234
Illustrations: 7 b&w photos. 2 maps. 8 tables.
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University

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Subject Headings

  • Governors -- Texas -- Election -- History -- 20th century.
  • Politicians -- Texas -- Biography.
  • Republican Party (Tex.) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Clements, William P., 1917-.
  • Party affiliation -- Texas -- History -- 20th century.
  • Democratic Party (Tex.) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Political campaigns -- Texas -- History -- 20th century.
  • Texas -- Politics and government -- 1951-.
  • Political parties -- Texas -- History -- 20th century.
  • Political candidates -- Texas -- Biography.
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