State is crucial to Bush, GOP says


September 22, 1992|By Jack W. Germond | Jack W. Germond,Staff Writer

DALLAS -- Democratic nominee Bill Clinton's campaign has decided to run an intense campaign here for the next month in an attempt to bury President Bush by denying him his home state's 32 electoral votes -- without which, both campaigns agree, the president cannot be re-elected.

The strategy is based on polls, both published and private, that show Mr. Clinton running even or slightly ahead of Mr. Bush and on the prospect that independent Ross Perot may draw away enough Bush supporters in Texas to ensure the president's defeat here.

It is also based on the premise that Mr. Bush is likely to lose both California, with its 54 electoral votes, and New York, with 33, and is running well behind in both Pennsylvania (23) and Illinois (21). In such a situation, the president probably would find it impossible to amass the needed 270 electoral votes without Texas, even if he were to win other Rust Belt states such as Ohio, Michigan and New Jersey.

The Clinton campaign is approaching the state with a conspicuously pragmatic eye. Garry Mauro, the state land commissioner directing the effort in Texas, said the Clinton campaign here will be "fully funded" through Oct. 10, when a decision will be made on whether winning Texas is feasible.

"That's what they're going to do in every state," Mr. Mauro said. "If we're behind here, we'll leave. I think that's true in any big state."

The Democrats may be kidding themselves or simply making a feint to mislead the Republicans. Four years ago, after all, they lost the state even with Sen. Lloyd Bentsen on the ballot as the vice-presidential nominee.

But Bill Clinton is no Michael Dukakis, and the George Bush of 1992 is not the untarnished home-state favorite of 1988. Asked if he is taking the Democratic offensive in Texas seriously, Jim Oberwetter, Mr. Bush's campaign chairman here, replied: "I damned sure do. And we can't win without it."

The Clinton campaign followed the decision -- made at a meeting of Texas Democrats and national campaign leaders in Austin last week -- by beginning to run radio commercials in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Lubbock areas targeted at conservative Democrats who voted for Ronald Reagan, then Mr. Bush, in the last three elections. They are being followed by television commercials also tailored for Texas voters, the outlay for which is being kept secret.

The most recent published poll of Texas voters conducted for the Dallas Morning News found Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush in a statistical dead heat. But other surveys have shown Mr. Bush facing serious defections among Republicans both because of the condition of the economy and the Perot factor. Democrats claim to have one poll showing Mr. Clinton with a 5-point lead.

There also have been some more subjective signs of Republican weakness. Mr. Bush, for example, has made six trips in the past four months into the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which gave him a majority of almost 200,000 votes in 1988 and should be considered safe ground.

Mr. Oberwetter, a veteran of Republican campaigns here, agreed that Mr. Bush also has some problems among conservative Democrats this time. "The Reagan Democrats," he said, "are off the reservation. We've got some work to do there."

Republican successes in presidential elections in Texas have been built on running up huge margins among Republicans in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the suburbs of Houston and such West Texas strongholds as Midland and Odessa, to which they have added defections of nominal Democrats in rural East Texas and in some of the smaller communities across the state.

But as the governor of neighboring Arkansas, Mr. Clinton has some cultural connections to those East Texas voters, as does Mr. Perot, who grew up in Texarkana. And although the economy here is better than it was when oil prices were at their nadir a few years ago, small-town Texas still is suffering, and the state has lost 100,000 jobs in the energy industry over the last few years.

Mr. Perot's intentions remain hidden by his own nonstop stream of contradictory rhetoric on television talk shows. But some Texas insiders who have known him for years believe Mr. Perot is so determined to defeat Mr. Bush that he would either endorse Mr. Clinton or, more likely, give his own campaign at least a semi-active status to encourage like-minded Texans to support him.

If he becomes fully active again, Mr. Oberwetter said, "he makes a tight two-way race into a tight three-way race." The Republican campaign is already directing mailings to identified Perot supporters in the hope of minimizing that possibility.

Mr. Clinton has some other assets in the state, not the least being the energetic support he has been getting from Gov. Ann W. Richards, who is enjoying a 73-percent approval rating, solid support from blacks (who make up 11 percent or 12 percent of the electorate) and strong backing from Mexican-Americans (who make up just under 20 percent of the voters).

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