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Rematch for Governor's Job : White, Clements Headed for Victory in Texas Races

May 04, 1986|J. MICHAEL KENNEDY | Times Staff Writer

HOUSTON — At the end of a low-key and lackluster campaign, Democratic Gov. Mark White and former Republican Gov. Bill Clements fended off challenges from lesser-known opponents Saturday, taking comfortable leads in the Texas gubernatorial primaries and setting up an expected grudge match for the state's top job.

Victories by both White and Clements would avert a June runoff election for the right to represent their parties in the November general election. Each candidate has to win at least 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff.

White defeated Clements, the only Texas Republican governor of this century, in the 1982 gubernatorial election.

Foes Hoped for Runoff

Clements, with 60% of the vote, scored an apparent easy victory over his two opponents, former U.S. Rep. Kent Hance, a one-time Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Tom Loeffler, who both said they had hoped to force the better-known former governor into a runoff.

White's major initial opposition came from Andrew Briscoe III of Dallas, a distant cousin of former Gov. Dolph Briscoe, who was one of five political unknowns battling for the Democratic nomination. In the early returns, Briscoe was polling 27% of the vote, but faded to 22% as more votes were counted.

The election had its tense moments for White, who held on to a slim 51% of the Democratic vote in the early returns, but increased his margin to 53% with 75% of the precincts reporting.

"It's a classic rematch," said Richard Murray, a University of Houston political science professor and well-known Texas pollster. "Here you've got two guys who have been governor going at it. It should make for a very interesting election.

'Fire in His Belly'

"These guys hate each other, especially Clements," he said. Murray said the former governor has had "a fire in his belly" since losing the 1982 election.

"It's going to be long, bitter and expensive," Murray said.

The economic lethargy facing Texas, along with the rest of the oil patch, is almost certain to be a major campaign issue in the coming months, with White attempting to blame the state's financial woes on the Reagan Administration. Clements, in turn, is expected to try to lay the state's problems, including a $1.3-billion deficit, on White.

The Texas primary attracted little voter interest. Texas Secretary of State Myra McDaniel predicted that less than a quarter of the state's registered voters would go to the polls.

During the primary campaign, White was attacked by his opponents for his lack of leadership and as a man who broke his promises by raising taxes and failing to take charge of the state's oil crisis. White responded that he was one of the prime sponsors of Texas' sweeping education reforms and that he had been instrumental in working to solve the state's water problems.

Clements' opponents attacked the 68-year-old millionaire as too old and also attempted to paint him as a loser who already had been handed a defeat once before at White's hands.

Clements declared victory three hours after the polls closed Saturday night, followed shortly by White.

"I think what we have is an endorsement from the Democratic Party and the people of Texas by a more than 2 to 1 margin," White said in Austin.

LaRouche Races Watched

After the success of candidates supporting Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. in Illinois, his followers were watched closely in the Texas primary. Only one candidate, Noel Cowling, ran for statewide office, that of agriculture commissioner. But in the early going, he was being soundly defeated by the incumbent, Jim Hightower.

Two LaRouche candidates were running unopposed in the Democratic primary for congressional seats, but they were in Republican strongholds where Democrats said their chances of winning were almost impossible.

Besides Briscoe, White's opponents were Don Crowder of Dallas, Sheila Bilyeu of Corpus Christi, Bobby Locke of San Antonio and Ron Slover of Amarillo.

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