Tough-talking Democrats, mostly southern elected officials wary of their national party's liberal image, staged a blitz through five Texas cities today, rallying the faithful against growing defections to the Republicans.
"I'm tired of hearing this party and those who represent this party described as wimps," Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb told newspaper editors here after a day in which he and other members of the fledgling Democratic Leadership Council appealed for new faith in Democratic ideas on defense, the economy and social issues.
Earlier in the day, however, Robb acknowledged that even the council itself was formed outside the Democratic National Committee in part because many members -- and contributors -- were uneasy with the national party.
And at a breakfast in Austin, Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.) confessed to "running away from the national party" in past elections, but said Republican gains in his state are making that impractical.
Over eggs, potatoes and blueberry muffins at the Driskill Hotel, Chiles told DLC contributors that the national party has "got to get back where our state parties are . . . we know where the middle is . . . . Don't talk about switching, let's stay and fight."
It was all much the same rhetoric throughout the day as the Democrats split up at Austin and spread out to Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso and Abilene.
It was the second such outing for the DLC -- Florida in May was first -- since it was formed in February by Robb, Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri to showcase the talent of a new generation of elected Democrats, including themselves, in the aftermath of last year's stinging defeats. The DLC said it hopes to stage its next forays into North Carolina and Michigan.
Here in Dallas, the appeal for new messages drew concerns from some who fear the DLC may be steering the party away from traditional support from women's groups, blacks and others.
The moderates "strike a little bit of panic in my heart," said Charlotte Taft, who questioned the Democrats at a luncheon at the Adolphus Hotel. Taft, who runs an abortion clinic here, said groups "often called special interests are especially interested" that the Democratic Party may move away from them.
Robb, the group leader in Dallas, pledged support for Democratic values, but said that if such groups "cause our candidates to jump through a hoop . . . we are going to be doomed to failure," a line that drew applause from the crowd of about 300 attending the Dallas Democratic Forum lunch.
Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.), also on the trip, later told reporters, "We can't let the Republicans equate civil rights in America with special interests."
"You don't have to be a white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant, aging male to be effective," Robb told editors of the Dallas Morning News.
Other Democrats touring Texas included Gephardt, Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Rep. Beverly Byron of Maryland, as well as several Texans, among whom were Gov. Mark White, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, Rep. Jim Wright and state Treasurer Ann Richards.
Bentsen said the DLC would help set the agenda for the 1986 elections in which the Democrats could regain the control of the Senate.
Reeling off a list of moderate and southern Democrats who would lead major Senate committees, he said, "I think that's mainstream Democratic. The South will rise again."
The Democrats repeatedly took heart from a special election last Saturday to fill a congressional seat in the 1st District in Eastern Texas. Republican Edd Hargett, seeking to be the first GOP congressman there since Reconstruction, got 42 percent of the vote but failed to win outright against five Democrats and an independent, despite spending about $750,000. A runoff is expected in August.
"Republicans, we're coming at you," declared Rep. J.J. (Jake) Pickle of Austin.