Political fights can get ugly, but the grappling over who will get the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor got particularly unsightly last Friday. Up until then, both the remaining candidates, State Sen. Dan Patrick and current Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, had done their best to embarrass and undermine each other, but it all got down into the real dirty fighting on Friday when Jerry Patterson, current land commissioner, former candidate and an ally of Dewhurst, released Patrick's medical records showing that Patrick was twice admitted to a mental hospital to be treated for depression back in the 1980s. It was a nasty bit of work in an increasingly ugly race, but this kind of below-the-belt political antics has a history in Texas. Here are five standout examples of down-and-dirty political fighting in the Lone Star State. It's worth noting that sometimes these things don't go as planned:
5. Jim Mattox and Ann Richards. The 1990 governor's race was a free-for-all after Gov. Bill Clements announced he wasn't running for another term. Ann Richards had shot to national prominence two years before with her address at the Democratic National Convention, but she didn't have the Democratic nomination sewn up. Nope, she had to duke it out with Attorney Gen. Jim Mattox and former Gov. Mark White. Mattox alleged that Richards was a coke-snorting recovering alcoholic who was likely to snap and become a coke-snorting boozy head of the Lone Star State if elected governor. Maybe Mattox thought he was locking up the Democratic nomination when his campaign started tossing around these narrow-minded and incredibly backward-thinking allegations, but it actually had the opposite effect. None of the three contenders won the nomination on the first round, but the mudslinging actually drove voters away during the runoff between Mattox and helped Richards win the nomination. She then went on to become the legendary Gov. Ann Richards, defeating Republican opponent Clayton Williams by a slim margin. So that plan kind of backfired a bit.
4. Sylvester Turner, Bob Lanier and Wayne Dolcefino. Sylvestor Turner was on his way to being the next mayor of Houston. He had all the right endorsements and was polling way ahead of his opponent, Bob Lanier, but it all changed when a story by investigative reporter Wayne Dolcefino aired the Sunday before the election. The story was basically just Dolcefino asking whether Turner could have been involved in election fraud, but it did the trick and he lost the election. Turner claimed that the whole thing was orchestrated by Lanier's campaign. KTRK denied this at the time, but it was later found that the story came from a private investigator who, go figure, was indeed connected to the Lanier campaign, according to a Press story. Turner sued a year later, but by then Lanier was mayor, Turner was not and that was that.
3. George W. Bush, Karl Rove and Ann Richards. Richards faced off against George W. Bush in her bid for re-election in 1994. This was when Karl Rove and Bush really teamed up and started working that special political magic that we like to call "almost untraceable political assassination." Rumors started going around that Richards was gay. Hair Balls likes to think that wouldn't be a career-ending accusation today, even in the Lone Star State, but back then it was a big enough deal that it didn't do her campaign any favors, according to the Atlantic. The whole thing could never be traced to W's guy, Rove, but everyone knew it was, according to a Bush biographer Louis Dubose. Richards reportedly didn't do herself any favors by referring to Bush as "some jerk" and (our personal fave) "shrub." Richards lost, W. won and that was that.
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2. John Tower and Robert Krueger. Tower was the first Texas Republican elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction and he was a seasoned campaigner by the time he ran against Krueger in 1978. The race quickly devolved into a contest of personalities (always a sign for good mudslinging potential.) After Tower dubbed his opponent "Little Lord Fauntleroy," Krueger came back and accused Tower of being a whiskey-drinking woman chaser. Krueger's campaign people then sent out an op-ed detailing rumors about Tower's boozy, skirt-chasing Washington, D.C. lifestyle. Tower did not take kindly to this. He was so angry he cancelled four campaign appearances with Krueger, according to Mudslingers by Kerwin Swint. Then the two were at a barbecue. Krueger reached out to shake hands, but Tower refused (this is tantamount to flipping the bird in the Texas campaign world). He did this in front of the cameras and Krueger's camp made the most of it. But then Tower recorded an ad explaining his side of the story. "Perhaps you've seen this picture of my refusal to shake the hand of my opponent," Tower said in the ad. "I was brought up to believe that a handshake is a symbol of friendship and respect, not a meaningless, hypocritical gesture. My opponent has slurred my wife, my daughters and falsified my record. My kind of Texan doesn't shake hands with that kind of man." That was the end of that.
1. Lyndon B. Johnson does Barry Goldwater in with one TV ad. Lyndon B. Johnson is the first name that pops up when you search for "negative campaigning" and it's because he and his people were so friggin' good at it. Case in point: Daisy Girl, a television ad that was run against Goldwater. It's a masterful example of mudslinging because Goldwater's name is never even mentioned. The advertisement shows a girl in a meadow counting daisy petals. A man's voice comes on and begins a missile launch countdown. The kid turns to look at something she sees in the sky, the camera zooms in on her eyes and then the screen cuts to black. There's an explosion, a fireball and the whole thing ends with, "Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home." The ad aired only once before it was immediately pulled. But the point was made, Goldwater didn't become president and a lot of the credit for Johnson's win has been given to that ad.