Monday, February 25, 2008

GOOD LIE IN THE PRIMARY ROUGH

Since Billy Clyde is only 29, he has a limited personal perspective about Texas primaries. But here goes.

First, people keep chiming "move 'em, move 'em up! We want a pony like like the kids in all those other states." Well, for most of Texas' history, we either didn't have primaries or they were held in September. Then, sometime in the 1950s I believe, the state moved them up to May. Where the stayed until 1988.

In 1987, Senator Chet Edwards went on some legislative junket. And he and a bunch of state lawmakers from the South and Southwest got to visiting and hatched up a scheme for a Super Tuesday, to be held on a ridiculously early date in March. The theory went something like this: (1) we band together and give our part of the country major mojo; and (2) produce a more moderate/conservative Democratic nominee (code for no more McGoverns or Mondales, please). Republicans fell in love with the idea, because it would produce an early big-state win for George H.W. Bush.

The Edwards bill sped through the upper chamber faster than a Senator accepting an invitation for free steaks and booze at the Tri-Delt House.

The House was all set to do the same, except someone pointed out that it was gonna be really expensive. And the state was really broke. So instead of having a split primary (March primary for Prez, the traditional May primary for everyone else), someone over at the Cloakroom said, "Just move all primaries to March. That'll solve your money problem right there." I wasn't there, but that innovative soul allegedly got his rather large tab picked up for many, many nights after that.

So the House passed the bill, the Senate concurred, and then-Vice President Bush rushed to Austin to personally sign the bill before Governor Clements could get back from the ranch.

All the the major Democrats came to Texas and started begging -- just begging -- for support. A few went with Dick Gephardt, a few with Bruce Babbitt. But the big winner was a young Congressman from Tennessee named Al Gore.

Speaker Gib Lewis endorsed Gore, and assigned his designated errand boy Representative Rick Perry to organize Gore's Texas effort. The summer before the election, everyone just assumed that Al Gore would sweep the South and Southwest. Ha! We would pull one over on those damn Yankees!

The only non-crazy elected official who backed Michael Dukakis was John Sharp. All the political people went running to him and begged him not to do it.

Sharp was right. Super Tuesday didn't go precisely as planned. And everyone -- even the left-handed homeless anti-nuke save the lesbian whale crowd -- voted for Bush.

But the statewide officials, county officials, and legislators figured out that Super Tuesday did have an upside: it provided almost no time for a potential challenger to beat an established, non-indicted incumbent. Texas may be the deciding state in the D primary this year, but lawmakers will call it a fluke. Look for the Legislature to move it up next session in the name of presidential influence -- with the unspoken added benefit of alleviating members with those pesky campaigns, allowing them to focus their full, undivided attention on fundraising and collecting per diem.

Now, enough of this nerdy stuff. On the heels of Senator Barack Omama's electric, overwhelming events in Austin and across Texas, Billy Clyde started thinking about his electric primary experience.

In 1984, Reagan did nothing and Gary Hart issued a dare -- and that was pretty much that.

The very first stop that President Reagan made after the GOP Convention was right here in Austin. It was an afternoon event on Auditorium Shores that drew 20,000 screaming fans. It reminds me of the afternoon Town Lake event Obama held last year when throngs of people went out in the rain and saw first-hand that yes, indeed, Barack Obama is a rock star. Big time.

If Obama was 25 years older, a former movie star, governor, and white, he'd be Ronald Reagan. They both give great up-lifting speeches, play great theme music, and just create that atmosphere that makes you damn proud to be an American.

BC got a ringside seat four years later, when Houston got to show off its brand spanking new George Brown Convention Center. All the major candidates were still in the race, and it was the debate of the season. There was no alphabet soup of cable news channels (CNN's motto was: The Only Game in Town; Take It or Leave It) and so maybe two or three primary debates was it. Man we had fun that week.

Then there was 1992. As Hillary Rodham will tell you, things don't always go as planned. Bush had an approval rating of 90 percent at the beginning of 1992. Unknown Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton had been in the race two months and was already mired in scandal. But ... well, you know the rest of the story. But it's a good lesson for prognosticators who think their crystal balls don't stink.

The GOP fell into it usual mode in 2006 and picked the guy who was next in line, Bob "Bob" Dole. That didn't worked out too well for Dole, who did manage to parlay his loss into major endorsement deals for Doritos and Viagra.

The primary of 2000 was odd. All the Democrats had to travel around the country and campaign. Bush hung around the Mansion and made everyone come to him. My only real involvement in that campaign was happening to office caddy-corner from the Mansion during the recount, and our parking lot made for a convenient place for the national media to congregate. Lesson learned: the national media are a bunch of litterbugs.

Best I recall, Texas didn't have any presidential primaries in 2004.

Now it's 2008, and Barack Obama seems close to sowing it up and Texas will get the credit. McCain will do better than expected because the New York Times reported that he gets it on with hot blondes in gold cocktail dresses. (Team McCain planted that story.) John Tower must be proud.