Can a Republican win Presidency without carrying Texas?


Texas Democrats hope that Beto O’Rourke’s  2.6 percent loss to Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, in deep-Red Texas, may put Texas back in play in presidential elections.

The saying was no Democrat could win the presidency without carrying Texas. That held true for many elections – back when Texas was part of the Democratic Old South. 

That influenced Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960 choosing a competitor for the presidential nomination, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson, as his running mate. The Kennedy-Johnson ticket carried Texas, and won.

The last Democratic presidential candidate to win Texas was Jimmy Carter in 1976. In 1980, Republican Ronald Reagan beat Carter – after choosing his chief rival for the nomination, Texan George H. W. Bush, as his running mate.

Democrats needing Texas played a big part in the 1988 Democratic nominee for president, former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, choosing Texas U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate.

Maybe that would offset the fact that the Republican presidential nominee that year was Vice-President Bush of Texas.

But it didn’t. The Dukakis-Bentsen presidential ticket got just 43 percent of the vote – even while Bentsen was got 59 percent for his simultaneous race for re-election to the Senate.

For six of the seven presidential elections beginning in 1980, there was a Bush on the presidential ticket in the nation – and Texas. (Bush the Elder for vice-president in 1980 and 1984, and for president in 1988 and 1992; Bush the Younger for president in 2000 and 2004.)

And in 1994 and 1998, the younger Bush was on the Texas ballot for governor – winning both times.

Fortunately for the Democrats nationally, they broke out of needing Texas to win the presidency in 1992. Bill Clinton – with the help of third-party candidate Ross Perot – won the presidency from Texan Bush, even while losing Texas. 

Clinton won again in 1996 – again without Texas – and, spending no TV money in Texas, despite the requests by Texas Democratic politicians that he do so, to help the Texas party regain some momentum.

The national presidential ticket provides infrastructure support in presidential years – the engine that pulls the train. Without it, the Texas Democratic Party atrophied.

Democrats last won any statewide races in Texas in 1994 -- the year George W. Bush unseated Democratic Gov. Ann Richards.

The only Democrats who won statewide that year were re-elected to offices they already held. In 1998, with Gov. Bush topping the ticket, Republicans swept every statewide office. And they have ever since.

After Gov. Bush won the presidency in 2000 –carrying Texas – and again in 2004, Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 also won the presidency without carrying Texas. Obama did it again in 2012.

After Gov. Bush led the 1998 statewide sweep, some Democrats said Texas isn’t a Red State; it’s just a “Bush State.”

And now, coming up on presidential year 2020, after O’Rourke’s unexpectedly strong showing in Red-state Texas, Democrats seeking the presidency may decide that, with no Bush on the ballot, maybe the Republicans can’t win the presidency without carrying Texas’s 38 electoral votes. 

One More Bush. . . . Not mentioned so far is the most recent Bush: Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, just elected to a second term. 

Bush – son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, nephew of former president and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, and grandson of former President George H.W. Bush -- had breezed to election in 2014, when his Republican predecessor, Jerry Patterson, left to run for lieutenant governor against the incumbent, David Dewhurst.

Patterson ran last in a four-person GOP primary race for lieutenant governor. Then-state Sen. Dan Patrick led into a runoff with Dewhurst, which he easily won.

Patterson disagreed with some of the things Bush had done as Land Commissioner, especially involving oversight of the Alamo. So Patterson sought to win back his old job.

Bush, 42, ((DOB 4/24/76)) easily staved off the challenge. He got 58.2 percent against Patterson and two other candidates in the primary. He won the general election by more than 10 percent over Democrat Miguel Suazo.

But Bush follows a well-worn path of predecessors using the land office as a staging platform, waiting to move up the political food chain:

– Patterson – 12 years commissioner, ran for lieutenant governor, 2014. Lost.

– Dewhurst – 4 years, ran for lieutenant governor, 2002. Won.

– Democrat Garry Mauro – 16 years, ran for governor, 1998. Lost.

– Democrat Bob Armstrong – 12 years, ran for governor 1982. Lost.

We’ll watch how long George P. stays land commissioner, and whether another Bush can affect Texas’ standing nationally. 

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