When it comes to presidential sweepstakes, the story is simple: Bill Clinton can win the race without winning Texas. Bob Dole can't.
For that reason, Mr. Dole's supporters may be getting anxious. The most recent statewide polls show the candidates in a dead heat, even with Jack Kemp on the GOP ticket.
"Texas is a state the Republicans have to carry if they are to have any chance of winning the White House," says Earl Black, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston.
The poll numbers - showing Mr. Clinton and Dole each with 38 percent of the vote and third-party native son Ross Perot with 11 percent - are good news for Clinton, says Mr. Black. After all, Clinton won the White House in 1992 without winning Texas. Richard Nixon, who lost the state to Hubert Humphrey in 1968, is the only other presidential candidate since Calvin Coolidge to lose Texas and still win the election.
If Clinton wins Texas, and if he wins California again as he did in 1992, he will have nearly a third of the electoral-college votes he needs for a return trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Nevertheless, the president faces an uphill battle. The last Democrat to win Texas was Jimmy Carter in 1976, and Republican candidates have carried the state in six of the last seven elections. In addition, Dole has the support of Texas Gov. George W. Bush and US Sens. Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison.
That trio of GOP stars gives Dole a formidable advantage, says Mimi Correa, an Austin-based political consultant who works for Republican candidates. "Clinton will be hard pressed to win the state because the organization the Dole-Kemp campaign will have here is very strong." And she adds, "Texas is a conservative state."
Sam Kinch, editor of the political newsletter Texas Weekly, says he believes Clinton will give Dole a good fight. But Mr. Kinch points out that the Republicans have been gaining ground throughout the state for more than a decade and that the GOP is putting lots of money into state legislative races.
Kinch believes the Republicans have enough strength at the grass-roots level not only to take control of the Texas Legislature, but also to win the state for Dole. Clinton has a chance at winning Texas, "but I don't think it's likely," he says.
The Texas mix includes several wild cards. Democratic senatorial candidate Victor Morales, who is running against Mr. Gramm, has received plenty of positive press coverage. The former high school teacher's presence on the ticket could lead to a higher turnout of Hispanic voters, who tend to vote Democratic.
Mr. Morales has a promise from Vice President Al Gore that the White House will help him campaign. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is funding part of Morales's campaign and may legally spend as much as $1.6 million in the Lone Star State on his behalf, which could help the overall Democratic vote.
A redistricting order, issued Aug. 6 by a panel of federal judges, may also affect the Texas turnout. The judges redrew lines in 13 congressional districts, meaning the November election will be an open primary for all those seats. The redistricting move is widely seen as favoring the Texas GOP. But Democratic US representatives have appealed the case to the US Supreme Court.
Despite the variables, Clinton will prevail, predicts Garry Mauro, state general land commissioner and chief of Clinton's reelection campaign in Texas. Dole had a big lead over Clinton in polls taken three months ago, he notes. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that when you blow an 18-point lead, you are in trouble."
Mauro says the Democratic National Committee plans to spend $3 million in Texas this year, more than twice as much as the Democrats spent in 1988, when native son Lloyd Bentsen ran on the ticket with Michael Dukakis.
One other major unknown in the Texas race is Mr. Perot and the Reform Party. The Dallas billionaire, who carried 22 percent of the Texas vote in 1992, is on the ballot as an independent candidate. But it remains unclear if Perot will campaign. "As long as Perot doesn't emerge ... and draw votes away from Dole, the Republicans should win Texas," says Black.