When a White House aide saw President Carter's schedule for a political swing through Texas, he called a presidential image-maker at home to ask, "What are you trying to do-make the president look like a militarist and warmonger?"
"Whoa," said the image-maker. "The trip to Fort Hood is a traditional military review - every president does it."
"Okay," replied the still skeptical aide, "but then what about Fort Worth?"
When Air Forces One touches down in Texas at precisely 12:30 p.m. today, the Carter administration will be facing more troubles in the state that just knowing the state's fourth largest city from a military base.
For Carter's trip, planned six months ago as a routine $500-a-plate Democratic fund-raiseer here, has since taken on greater importance. There is a seemingly widespread and growing displeasure in Texas with presidential actions that have special impact on this state, the nathird most populous, and which Carter carried in 1976 with 52 per cent of the vote.
"He has tremendous problems in Texas," Republican candidates for attorney general James A. Baker reports from the campaign trail. Baker, who was President Ford's 1976 national campaign manager, says one joke being told at the Original Fifth Sometimes Annual Luchenbach World's Fair was about a new brew called Jimmy Beer.
"It's just like Billy Beer," goes the punch line, "except it has no head on it."
Such grumblings could be crucial in a state with eight retiring Democratic congressmen, a Senate race, a gubernatorial election - and two Texas Republicans sampling the presidential winds for 1980, John B. Connally and George Bush.
However, says one entrenched Houston Democratic organizer. "They are not going to be there as an endorsement, but they are going to be there because it is a Democratic fund-raiser."
There are reports, too, that federal employes will be packing the audience at a civic club lunch in Fort Worth, the president's first appearance inthe state today.
Specifically, the president has: "Reneged on his campaign promise to quickly deregulate prices of natural gas. "you've got to remember, one of the first things he did was betray Texas," says Baker. The state produces 35 percent of the nation's natural gas, and many oilmen now oppose the administration's plans to increase oil subsidies to the East at the expense of the West. Texas pumps 38 percent of the nation's domestically produced oil.
Refused to lift agricultural price supports to the levels demanded by protesting farmers. So militant were Texas farmers, the state had a number of arrests related to this winter's so-called farm "strike," and farmer sentiment apparently helped lead to the primary election defeat of Democratic Gov. Dolph Briscoe.
Signed and pushed for the Panama Canal treaties. Besides going against the generally conservative nature of Texans, the treaties were seen as a economic threat because of the large amount of goods passing through the canal on the way to or from Houston, the nation's third largest port.
Failed to move as quickly as Hispanic groups would like on discrimination and civil rights violations, particularly on those against Mexican-American in Texas.
Raised beef import quotas to help damp rising beef prices. This came after years of rancher losses owing to low cattle prices. In an indication of Texas's cattle production, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently named Texas as the nation's number one producer of manure.
As if all that weren't enough, here in Houston, th mecca of U.S.-Arab trade many Jews actively oppose the administration's Middle East policies. Billy D. Goldberg, an influential Democratic political operative who was invited to a White House breakfast with Zbigniew Brzezinski on Carter's Middle East stance, is boy-cotting tonight's fund-raiser.
Goldberg is also expected to be the next state Democratic chairman.
However, it appears that key Democratic officials in the state will be attending tonight's fund-raiser, so at least they are not yet trying to put distance between their campaigned and the Carter performance.
Texas gave Carter 26 of his 53 electral vote margin, and whatever the president's difficulties are here now, some observers say he has a wellspring of resources to tap to rebuild his popularity.
"I don't think it's permanent damage at this point," adds liberal Democratic National Committewoman Billie Carr. "People may be mad or disapproving, but they're holding their breath and they're hoping something is going to happen . . . Everybody around here is still in the Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy syndrome."