The Texas Republican presidential primary on May 3 looms more important nationally to both Ronald Reagan and George Bush now that a native son, former Gov. John B. Connally, has withdrawn from the 1980 race.
Political analysts here [interviewed prior to Tuesday's primaries in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama] see mounting pressure on Mr. Bush, a former US representative from the houston area, to win his home state now that he is the sole Texan in the contest. Previously, "John Connaly was the native son personified; Ronald Reagan had the support of the party activists; and George Bush had sort of fallen between the cracks," assesses Richard Murray, a political scientist at the University of Houston.
Texas now is a "must win" for Mr. Bush if he is to capture his party's nomination, Mr. Murray says.
By the same token, the primary here now holds out to Mr. Reagan a chance to derail Mr. Bush once and for all by beating the Texan on his home turf, a number of political observers agree.
Just as the Texas primary in 1976 helped launch Mr. Reagan's presidential bid with a more than 2-to-1 victory over incumbent President Gerald Ford, the 1980 contest could give him the "crowning blow" against Mr. Bush, reasons former Republican Party state chairman Ray Barnhart.
Political analysts here still consider Mr. Reagan the front-runner, owing to his deep and long-standing support in Texas. But Mr. Bush has been gaining popularly and now is clearly in a stronger position to gain a home state advantage with Mr. Connally removed from the contest.
Messrs. Reagan and Bush are the only serious active candidates entered in the Texas Republican primary. There will be no binding Democratic presidential primary.
A major unknown for both candidates is whether Mr. Ford will enter the 1980 race. Some observers speculate Mr. Ford could mount an anti-Reagan drive in Texas by encouraging support of Mr. Bush. Mr. Ford has said he does not feel Mr. Reagan could win the general election in November.
Political analysts do not agree on which candidate will garner the bulk of Mr. Connally's constituency. The former Democrat turned Republican had been expected to draw a large number of independent and Democratic voters into the Republican primary. Although this crossover vote is now apt to shrink, it still could be important in determining the outcome.
Mr. Connally had become campaigning nationally for the same conservative Republican vote that has proved so loyal to Mr. Reagan, and had said Mr. Bush was too liberal to get the Republican Party nod.
Connally pollster Lance Tarrance told the Monitor he expects Mr. Reagan to benefit most from Mr. Connally's withdrawal because the two men have similar ideological appeal with Texas voters. "There won't be a shift en masse, but most of the support will go to Ronald Reagan," he predicted. Mr. Tarrance also expects the bulk of Mr. Connally's campaign workers to either switch to Mr. Reagan or stay out of the contest in Texas.
Professor Murray argues to the contrary that Mr. Bush is best positioned to gain the more urban, independent-minded voters that make up much of the crossover support Mr. Connally had sought. He notes there has been a huge immigration to Texas since 1976; no one is certain who these "new" voters will support.
The latest state poll, conducted by Texas Monthly magazine in early February, showed state republicans favored Mr. Reagan (33.7 percent) and Mr. Bush (32.8 percent) over Mr. Connally (25.4 percent).
Political analyst Douglas S. Harlan of San Antonio feels Mr. Reagan still must be considered the front-runner to win most of the state's 80 delegates. But Mr. Connally's pullout from the race makes the Texas primary "a different ball game," he adds.