The Texas Primary

Fire ants, naked voters, good ole boys and racial slurs, you name it, the Texas primary has had it. It's a typical Texas election race.

To take first things first and to no one's surprise, money, sex and alcohol have reared their ugly heads early and often.

All are issues in the race for state treasurer. The incumbent is a fellow named, yes, Warren G. Harding. He is under indictment for misusing state funds, and the district attorney in Austin said this week he is looking into allegations of sexual harassment against Harding.

All of that might be enough to sink poor Harding, but his two liberal opponents have gotten into a messy spectacle about alcoholism that appears to have hurt both.

Lane Denton, a former state representative and member of the infamous "Dirty Thirty" from the Sharpstown bank scandal about a decade ago, has repeatedly accused Ann Richards, an Austin County commissioner, of having a drinking problem. Richards acknowledges that she did at one point, but says it is under control. The liberals have reviled their old friend Denton, while Richards says she fears she will lose votes among Baptists.

Other races also feature recovered alcoholics, including former representative Joe Wyatt, who quit Congress two years ago because of his drinking problem and charges of sexual misconduct. He is trying to recapture his seat around Corpus Christi and, perhaps to prove his rehabilitation, has switched from the Democratic Party to the Republicans.

One of the candidates for governor, land commissioner Bob Armstrong, has been trying to capitalize on the fact of his money-starved campaign by running ads saying the governor's office shouldn't be for sale to the highest bidder.

Until last week that was one of his strongest messages. Then it was revealed that he had accepted a check for $195,000 from a controversial south Texas rancher and oilman, Clinton Manges. All told, Manges has chipped in about $270,000 to Armstrong's $500,000 campaign, the rest through an organization called the Good Government Committee. Armstrong's manager says that it's "clean money."

Manges apparently is trying to hedge his bets, however, by donating $50,000 to the campaign of Buddy Temple, one of Armstrong's opponents. Temple, who has borrowed $1 million of his own money, decided to give the $50,000 back. But there were reports, denied by Temple's campaign spokesmen, that Temple's manager had asked that Manges send him the money after the election so he wouldn't have to report it.

Then there's the race for agriculture commissioner, which the statehouse press corps dubbed a "folk-off" because of the down-home style of the candidates.

Incumbent Reagan V. Brown and challenger Jim Hightower have been trading insults for months, and the fact that they are in a serious primary contest has been blown away by their inflated rhetoric.

Of Brown, Hightower says, "His record is uglier than my face, and I intend to take both around the state."

In turn, Brown charges that the populist Hightower is a leftist supported by the Vietcong.

Hightower reportedly responded that he has not taken a dime from "CongPAC."

Brown led a crusade against the Mediterranean fruit fly, which threatened Texas borders last summer, and he has tried to mount a similar campaign against the fire ant. About the only thing he stirred up was the ants. Touring the state capitol grounds with reporters, he stuck his hand into a mound of fire ants and got bitten 32 times.

The campaign may have taken a fatal turn this week when Brown, with a Dallas television crew filming him, referred to Booker T. Washington as "the great black nigger . . . black . . . uh . . . uh . . . educator." Unfortunately, it was aired on the 6 p.m. news in Dallas and Austin.

With candidates running around with names like Warren G. Harding, Andrew Jackson Shuval, Woodrow Wilson Bean, Millard K. Neptune, Jerry Ford and Walter (Mad Dog) Mengden, you might wonder about the name game.

Charles Barrow says he thinks it's a serious question. In 1976 he lost an election to the Texas Supreme Court to Don Yarbrough, whom the voters apparently mistook for fomer senator Ralph Yarborough. Don Yarbrough was forced to resign from the court later, after he was convicted of lying to a grand jury that was investigating whether he had plotted to murder a Texas banker.

This year Barrow, who is now on the court, is running against Woodrow Wilson Bean, who once had his law license suspended after being convicted of failing to pay his income taxes.

Candidates complain lot about the rigors of campaigning, but it does have its rewards.

Hightower was in San Antonio recently distributing literature. He knocked on one door and, when it was opened a crack, quickly slipped a brochure through to a recipient. He turned back to the street with a wide grin on his face.

"There are 1 million naked voters in San Antonio," he said. "And that was one of them."