George Bush buckboard rolls in Texas
Houston — George Bush does not wear a Stetson, or speak with a Southern drawl. But the Republican presidential candidate is nonetheless gaining new appeal among voters in his home state of Texas following his stunning victory in the recent Iowa caucuses.
"The question I hear most is: 'Is it too late to get on the Bush bandwagon?'" comments Douglas Harlan, a political analyst and local Republican Party official from San Antonio.
The May 3 Republican primary in Texas has long ben viewed as a "shoot-out" between Ronald Reagan, who won handily here in 1976, and well-known former Texas Gov. John B. Connally.
Although a resident of Texas and a former congressman from Houston, George Bush has not been expected to do better than a distant third in the primary here.
Mr. Bush's victory over Ronald Reagan in Iowa has changed that, in the view of many political analysts. "Right now, I'd say Bush would place second to Regan (in winning delegates in the Texas primary),; assesses Ray Barnhart, former Republican state party chairman.
There is no agreement among political observers on how Messrs. Reagan, Connally, and Bush will fare against each other in Texas, but on one point they occur: George Bush is the candidate making noticeable gains.
"The Bush stock is rising," concedes an adviser to the Connally campaign in Texas. "I've detected a shakiness in some of our supporters, but Bush is still a long way back," he contends.
This Connally adviser also says that rising expectations could put new pressure on Mr. Bush in Texas, which he did not have as an underdig. "If he shows strength elsewhere, he'll have to show well in Texas, his home state," he says.
Home state loyalty has never been a major plus for George Bush in Texas, state campaign officials agree. Although Mr. Bush spent almost 20 years as a young man working in the Texas oil industry before entering politics, he is often perceived as an outsider because he was born in Massacusetts and educated in Connecticut. And since the early 1970s Mr. Bush has been away from Texas holding political posts in Washington or overseas. He was director of the Central Intelligence Agency, ambassador to the United Nations, and envoy to the People's Republic of China.
Also, Mr. Bush has never won a statewidr race in Texas. Native son John Connally, on the other hand, served three terms as governor.
"We certainly cannot 'out Texan' John Connally," concedes Bush state campaign chairman Harold R. DeMoss.
Still, Mr. DeMoss expects Mr. Bush's background as a Texas oil man to be an asset when he begins campaigning actively here in March.
"It's important that we address Texans as fellow state residents, and I want people in Texas to think about George Bush's 20 years in the oil business," Mr. DeMoss says.
A recent state poll by Texas Monthly magazine, taken before the Iowa vote, found registered Republican favoring John Connally over Ronald Reagan by 54 percent to 26 percent. George Bush placed a distant third with 13 percent.
However, the poll does not answer the important question in Texas politics of how independents and Democrats, who often switch party allegiance and vote in the Republican presidential primary, will vote.
"This is the unknown that will determine how well John Connally does, and the affects the other candidates," Mr. Harlan explains. John Connally, formerly a Democrat, is counting on sizable crossover votes from longtime Democratic supporters.
Mr. DeMoss says, since the Iowa victory, the Texas campaign headquarters for Mr. Bush in Houston has been flooded with calls from people offering to help the campaign by donating time or money. "A lot of people are convinced now that Bush can get the nomination, and they want to be with a winner," he says.
Mr. DeMoss predicts support for Mr. Bush in Texas will grow in three principal areas: young voters who, he says, have shown no attraction to any other Republican candidate; minorities, particularly the state's large Hispanic population; and newcomers to the state who have no allegiance to any other candidate.