The White House has decided to turn back to Texas in its search for someone who can put the debt-ridden and divided Democratic Party back on its feel.
John C. White, the deputy secretary of agriculture, is expected to be named next Tuesday as President Carter's choice to succeed Kenneth M. Curtis as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, White House officials said yesterday.
White, a longtime Texas agriculture commissioner and party loyalist, is very much the same kind of story telling, shrewd and flexible politician as his fellow-Texan, former national chairman Robert S. Strauss, who recommended him to the President.
Officials said Carter had not yet formally approved moving White from the Agriculture Department to the DNC but said they saw "no real obstacles" to the change.
Curtis announced earlier this month that he wanted to resign from the job for which Carter picked him last January. The former Maine governor had been under fire from some presidential aides as he struggled to reduce the Democrats' $1.7 million campaign debt and gear up for the mid-term campaign.
White's election is expected to be formalized at a meeting of the DNC to be held in Atlanta on Jan. 21, the day after a big fund-raising dinner in that city marking Carter's first anniversary as President.
White said yesterday that "I know they (White House aides) have made calls around the country" about his prospective appointment, but said he had not discussed it with Carter, Vice President Mondale or senior political aide Hamilton Jordan.
"The only thing I can say is, wherever the President wants me to serve, I serve."
White, 53, was in his 14th term as Texas agriculture commissioner when Carter tapped him for the No. 2 job in the Agriculture Department.
The gregarious farm leader was active in party affairs, once failing by only two votes to win the state party chairmanship.
Like Strauss, a former Dallas lawyer, White had close links for much of his career with the conservative Democratic establishment of his state. But he was mainly known as a party loyalist, a "brass-collar Democrat," who never strayed from the party fold.
In 1972, when former Texas Gov. John B. Connally led a mass exodous of conservative Texas Democrats to support Richard M. Nixon, White took on the unpopular and doomed job of being the Texas presidential campaign chairman for Sen. George S. McGovern (D-S.D.).
In 1976, along with most other Texas Democratic office-holders, he supported the favorite-son presidential candidacy of Sen. Lloyd M. Bentsen, Jr. (D. Tex.). But White worked actively in the struggle to hold Texas for Carter in the general election.
The prospective new chairman was one of Strauss' key spokesmen in the drafting of the new Democratic Party charter in 1973-74, generally siding with the "regulars" on the charter commission as opposed to the "reformers."
Despite that activity, a quick check of a cross-section of DNC members yesterday found few who had any strong impression, favorable or unfavorable, of White. "I never heard of the man until two days ago," said one Midwestern party chairman.
A key question raised by several of the national committee members was whether White would have more influence at the White House than Curtis enjoyed. The outgoing chairman was overshadowed, in decisions on patronage and other matter, by Jordan and several others who had played key roles in the Carter campaign and now hold White House jobs.