Republicans are salivating with anticipation; Democrats are running for cover. This is nothing new. The biggest enemy of the Texas Democratic party has always been the national Democratic party, dating back to 1952, when Governor Allan Shivers broke the Solid South by endorsing Eisenhower, who carried Texas. The worst thing that can happen to the Texas Democratic party is for national Democrats to nominate or elect a presidential aspirant who is anathema in Texas. John F. Kennedy carried the state in 1960, but he would not have done so had he not made the shrewd choice of Lyndon Johnson for a running mate. Hubert Humphrey carried the state against Richard Nixon in 1968, barely. McGovern was a total disaster in 1972. His presence on the ticket assured another term for U.S. Senator John Tower and an easy win here for President Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter carried the state in 1976–the last Democrat to do so–but he was so unpopular by 1978 that the Republicans, a party still in the larval stage, reelected Tower and won the governorship, behind Bill Clements, for the first time since Reconstruction. In 1980 Reagan thumped Carter here, and he won again in 1984. The 1984 Democratic candidate was Walter Mondale, and he carried only his home state of Minnesota. The ‘84 election began the destruction of the Texas congressional delegation. which was the most powerful and most cohesive in the House. Six Democrats lost their seats that year. In 1988, U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen was Michael Dukakis’s running mate. That gave Texas Democrats some hope, but (1) George H. W. Bush was the nominee, and (2) Dukakis ran a terrible campaign. Bush won, 55.44% to 43.68%.
The only Democratic nominee, other than Carter in ‘76, who has run well in Texas since 1952 is Bill Clinton. In 1992, with Ross Perot in the race, Bush narrowly carried Texas, 40.56% to Clinton’s 37.07%. Perot got 22.01%. The race was close again in 1996, when Bob Dole defeated Clinton, 48.75% to 43.83%. The next two elections were landslides for George W. Bush against Al Gore (2000) and John Kerry (2004). In 2008, Obama could muster only 43.68% against John McCain’s 55.44%.
In short, national Democratic candidates have a long history of running poorly here. The only reason that they visit Texas at all is to raise money, and all that does is take money out of the state that might be used here to pick up some legislative seats. Obama’s visit will help the entire Republican ticket. So if Bill White is perceived as running away from Obama, who can blame him?