Bentsen Wins Reelection to the Senate but Doesn't Deliver Texas

Tom Sherwood
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 9, 1988

Saying he and Michael Dukakis "waged a campaign worthy of the American people," Democratic vice presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen tonight accepted defeat gracefully as he claimed victory in his simultaneous race for the Senate from Texas.

Bentsen, his voice worn and cracking from a grueling campaign pace, told supporters at the Driskill Hotel here that he and Dukakis "told you the truth. . . . He [Dukakis] made me proud to be his partner. He made me proud to be his running mate, and he made me proud to be an American."

Bentsen arranged to hold an early morning news conference in Texas Wednesday and then return to Washington where, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he will resume his role as one of the most powerful members of Congress.

Even while Bentsen had kept up appearances for a boisterous crowd of supporters here, top aides had been in back rooms poring over election tallies in hopes they had at least denied President-elect George Bush an electoral landslide.

Still, Texas and other southern or border states -- some of which Bentsen had hoped to hold for Dukakis -- fell easily to Bush despite last-minute campaigning by Bentsen when polls narrowed once-wide gaps.

Bentsen had taken the lead role in defending Dukakis from an onslaught of what Bentsen had called "slanderous" GOP negative ads. Many observers, including Bentsen, had said Dukakis' late response to those ads helped cost him the election.

There was even a hint of that in Bentsen's words of praise tonight. "I have never seen a candiate that worked any harder, in those last three or four weeks delivered a message any stronger than did Mike Dukakis," Bentsen said.

Texas aides said Bentsen's immense southern popularity -- and surprising strength around the nation -- was not enough to overcome a strongly negative perception of Dukakis, spurred in part by ads that Bentsen said distorted Dukakis' record.

In Texas, however, Bentsen defeated two-term GOP Rep. Beau Boulter of Amarillo, although by a smaller margin than expected.

While Texas supporters were cheered by his certain return to the Senate as one of its most powerful members, the post-mortems on the national race were beginning quickly.

"I think one of our problems . . . after the convention [was] there was a great deal of momentum, but the campaign itself, that is the Dukakis campaign itself, really didn't take off," said state Treasurer Ann Richards, who cochaired Bentsen's reelection effort and was the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta last July.

Bentsen is expected to play a major role in shaping Democratic policy in the Senate under a Bush presidency. Although he has expressed strong distaste over Bush's negative campaign, Bentsen has steered clear of some Democratic threats to thwart Bush on Capitol Hill. "Too much is at stake in this country to try to seek revenge," Bentsen has said.

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