AUSTIN, TEX. -- In every recent poll offering such an alternative, "None of the Above" has cleaned the clocks of Republican Clayton Williams and Democrat Ann Richards in the Texas governor's race.
So has Henry Cisneros, the former San Antonio mayor who temporarily, and perhaps now to his regret, withdrew from the Lone Star political scene before the campaign began.
"None of the Above" and Cisneros will not be on the ballot Tuesday: Texans will have to choose between Williams, the 59-year-old West Texas oilman, and Richards, the 57-year-old state treasurer. Polls indicate that it might not be until late this weekend before the ultimate and decisive shift in voter sentiment becomes clear. At this point, according to the latest Gallup Poll and internal tracking surveys conducted by both camps, the race is a dead heat: 44 percent for each candidate. The Richards internal surveys reportedly show the race even within a tenth of a percent. Williams aides say their tracking polls show the Republican still slightly ahead.
Since he galloped out of the Republican primary last March with a saddlebag full of money to spend on television commercials and an image as Texas's favorite new good-ole-boy, Williams had been the prohibitive favorite for the governor's mansion. This race was his to lose. It seems that he has tried his darndest to do just that, stumbling through one befuddling episode after another in a performance proving not just that he can relate to the good-ole-boys, but that he is the quintessential Bubba.
The latest gaffe came Tuesday night during an interview on KERA-TV in Dallas when Williams, who voted early by absentee ballot last week, was asked how he voted on Proposition 1, a constitutional amendment that affects the confirmation process of gubernatorial appointments.
"Now Proposition 1 is which, excuse me?" Williams asked.
Proposition 1 was the only constitutional amendment on the ballot. When Williams gained enough clues to remember the amendment, he said he had not taken a position on it. Reminded that he had already voted on it, Williams said: "I voted for it . . . . I think I voted for it."
Asked whether his uncertainty implied a lack of knowledge about governmental affairs, Williams replied, "I'm not a politician. But I can read. If you'd put that in front of me, it would take me about 30 seconds to give you my opinion." Then, aiming to settle the matter once and for all, he added, "I had the highest grade point in the school of agriculture at A&M my last semester."
With scenes like that dominating the drama in Texas, it sometimes is hard to keep in mind the serious consequences of this race not only on the future of Texas -- which is struggling with an overburdened and underfunded social structure in education, law enforcement and human resources -- but on the American political equation. Texas is one of the Big 3 states along with Florida and California that both parties targeted this year. Population growth over the 1980s means that the state will gain three new congressional seats after the 1991 redistricting process, and control of the governor's office is considered crucial to determining the political texture of those new districts.
National Republicans began the campaign season optimistic that 1990 would mark the pivotal point in a 20-year political transformation, with not only the governorship and the Senate seat already held by Phil Gramm (R) going their way, but perhaps several of the down-ballot state positions and a congressional seat or two as well. President Bush campaigned for the party's candidate for lieutenant governor, Rob Mosbacher, son of Bush pal and Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher, and Vice President Quayle seemed like a regular guest in the congressional districts of GOP candidates Joe Dial and Hugh Shine.
There was even talk of upsetting Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower and throwing a scare at General Land Commissioner Garry Mauro.
The perspective on the eve of the final weekend of the election season is considerably more modest. Even if Williams wins, it appears likely Democrat Bob Bullock, now state comptroller, will gain the lieutenant governor's job, which oversees the state Senate and, in a raw political sense, on issues such as redistricting, is considered as powerful or more so than the governor. Democrats are also favored to win the attorney general post and all the other constitutional positions. And in the two most heated congressional races, Democrat Chet Edwards holds a lead over Shine in the Waco-area contest to replace the retiring Marvin Leath, and incumbent Greg Laughlin (D) seems to be edging out Dial in the Victoria-area swing district.
But, even while holding their noses, most Texans cannot keep their eyes off the governor's race. And, like it or not, television viewers from around the nation will be seeing Texas this weekend as well: Bush is scheduled to fly here Saturday night and campaign for Williams through Tuesday morning, when he will vote in Houston.
Bush, whose appearances in some other parts of the country have been received with mixed feelings by GOP candidates, feels welcome in Texas and has a deeply personal interest in the outcome. It was Richards, after all, who at the Democratic National Convention uttered the immortal line: "Poor George, he can't help it if he was born with a silver foot in his mouth."
When flying in Air Force One with Williams from Washington to Dallas in early October, the president, by Williams's account, pressed him incessantly on every detail of the race against Richards. "He wanted to know everything that was going on; how I was doing. It seems the president can't get enough of this race," Williams said. "It probably has as much to do with her attacks on him as it does with my sterling personality."