I’ve noted before how Texas politics is a contact sport.
The source of that description came to me from the late great Democratic U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. It’s more than mere contact, however. At times it becomes a blood sport.
Take the Republican runoff race for Texas lieutenant governor or the GOP runoff contest for state attorney general. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston are going at each other hammer and tong. It well might be that the Dan Branch-Ken Paxton contest for AG is even nastier, with Paxton running TV ads accusing Branch of being a — gulp! — “liberal Republican” who voted for third-trimester abortions and has backed the dreaded Obamacare.
This kind of campaigning isn’t new to Texas.
The Texas Tribune looked back at the 1990 Democratic race for governor as its prime example of how low it can go.
Attorney General Jim Mattox squared off against State Treasurer Ann Richards. They finished at the top of the primary heap that year and faced each other in a runoff for the party nomination.
Mattox actually accused Richards of using illegal drugs. Richards, a recovering alcoholic, had been clean and sober for many years. That didn’t matter to the bulldog Mattox, who made the accusation during a live TV debate with Richards, according to the Tribune.
Richards would win the runoff and would go on to beat Republican oilman Clayton Williams in the fall after Williams (a) made that terrible gaffe about rape and how women should “just relax and enjoy it” and (b) refused to shake Richards’s hand at an event they attended jointly, instead calling her a “liar” within hearing distance of an open microphone.
Yes, we should lament the nastiness of these current campaigns. Let’s not get too overwrought about them, however. They’re hardly new creations of this new age.
This nastiness is part of what makes Texas politics so, um, invigorating.