Hance Defeats Bush
"Kent Hance served in the Texas State Senate from 1973 to 1978, when he ran successfully as a Democrat for the 19th Congressional District. The seat had been held for a generation by popular Democrat George H. Mahon, long-time chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Hance's opponent in the general election was a young Republican businessman from Midland, George W. Bush. The 19th had long been one of the more conservative areas of Texas, and this conservative trend should have favored Bush. However, Hance portrayed Bush as "not a real Texan" because of his privileged upbringing and Yale education. Hance won by six points--the only time Bush was ever defeated in an election. Hance later said in an interview that after that election, Bush vowed that "he wasn't going to be out-Christianed or out-good-old-boyed again," and developed the folksy image that eventually carried him to the White House. Hance was reelected two times." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kent_Hance)
While George W. would carry his "hometown" area around Midland, 14 of the district's 17 counties went to Hance, who beat Bush overall in the vote count 53,917 to 47,497. (http://home.comcast.net/~chief.executive.club/p43.htm)
Supporters of Mr. Bush found out that Mr. Hance owned a building that was leased to Fat Dawgs, a bar in Lubbock. Some of Mr. Bush's friends urged him to accuse Mr. Hance of hypocrisy, but he refused; voters would reward a candidate who took the high road, he told supporters.
"His weakness was that he wouldn't go for the jugular," said Jane Anne Stinnett, a cotton broker and longtime Lubbock Republican. Ms Stinnett said that she argued for a tough response to the beer bash accusations, but "he just didn't want to do it."
A few days later, Mr. Bush was defeated, 53 percent to 47 percent.
"We were glad the race was over," Mr. Hance said. "He was really improving every day."
"He's a bright guy, and he picked up the issues and got better as time went on," Mr. Hance added. "If it'd been two weeks earlier, we would have beaten him worse. If it'd been two weeks later, it would have been really close."
..."So what did Mr. Bush learn from his first political contest? How did it change him?
He seems to have learned that a candidate needs to pick his races, for it may have been impossible for a Republican oilman from Midland to win in an overwhelmingly Democratic district dominated by agriculture and the rival city of Lubbock.
"It was an interesting lesson," Mr. Bush said in an interview. "Sometimes there are races you just can't win."
Another lesson, some of Mr. Bush's friends say, is the need to respond forcefully to accusations like those about the "Bush bash." The high road may be honorable, he discovered, but it does not necessarily lead to elective office.
More broadly, that first campaign taught Mr. Bush, as his old pal Joe O'Neill puts it, "don't let your opponent define you."
"He defined George as a carpet-bagger, and it's nonsense," Mr. O'Neill mused. "So that's the lesson George learned: When someone comes out with something, he's on it like a chicken on a June bug, because he's not going to let someone else define him."
Mr. Hance believes he taught Mr. Bush two lessons. First, he said, he showed Mr. Bush the need to cultivate the religious right, those church-goers who he had largely ignored during the campaign and who in the end voted against him on the alcohol issue.
And second, he thinks, he helped teach Mr. Bush the need to be more folksy.
As Mr. Hance put it: "He wasn't going to be out-Christianed or out-good-old-boyed again. He's going to be the good old boy next door."
"George ran a nice-guy campaign," recalled Ernest Angelo, who was then a Republican national committeeman as well as the mayor of Midland. "I told him toward the end that you couldn't run a nice-guy campaign. He said, 'That's what Kent is doing too.' Well, sure enough, in the last 10 days Kent Hance unloaded with everything but the kitchen sink."
In a series of radio ads in those final days, Hance contrasted his local roots with Bush's eastern education. While Hance was attending Dimmit High School, Bush was at Andover; while Hance was at Texas Tech, Bush was at Yale. And on it went.
During a debate 10 days before the election, Hance drawled that his "daddy and granddad were farmers. They didn't have anything do with the mess we're in right now, and Bush's father has been in politics his whole life."
Washington is the way it is, said Hance, precisely because of all those Yale fellas running the place.
Bush's undoing came in the final days of the campaign at the hands of one of his own volunteers. A Texas Tech student working for Bush ran an ad in the school paper, inviting students to a "Bush Bash" with free beer.
Hance seized on it. His law partner mailed a "Dear Fellow Christian" letter to 4,000 members of the Church of Christ, accusing Bush of "using tactics to secure votes which do not indicate" good character.
"Mr. Bush has used some of his vast sums of money in an attempt, evidently, to persuade young college students to vote for ... him by offering free alcohol to them," the letter said.
"Maybe it's a cool thing to do at Harvard or Yale," Hance said to a reporter.
...Ten years later, when he became his father's liaison with Christian conservatives, he concluded that he could have just as effectively communicated with those 4,000 church members in Lubbock. By then, Bush had undergone his own religious experience.
"He realized he had been ambushed in 1978," said Doug Wead, who worked closely with George W. as an evangelical adviser to the 1988 presidential campaign.
Bush carried only one county, Midland, but in a congressional district that had never elected a Republican, managed to win 47 percent of the vote. He blamed his defeat on "provincialism." The voters of the district had simply decided they wanted someone from Lubbock. Hance, who became a Republican in the mid-'80s, is now a lawyer in Austin.
After the congressional race, Bush's friends decided that he was ill-suited for the minutiae and tedium of Congress. They began to see him as someone who would thrive in a broader management position. Like CEO of a company. Or governor of a state.
Two years after Bush's defeat, however, his father was elected vice president, and eight years later he became president. Bush decided that he could not run again until his father was out of public office.
"If Hance was going to slam W. about the Bush Bash, why not call Hance a hypocite? Bush campaign employees leaked the information to the local press, but they would print the information only if candidate Bush made the charge with his own lips. When asked by his staff to do so, W. refused. He told one campaign worker: 'Ruthie, Kent Hance is not a bad person and I'm going to destroy him in his hometown. This is not an issue. If I destroy him to win, I don't win."
"Yet W. was devastated by his defeat, not so much for himself, but because he felt he had let his family down." ("The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty," page 265)
"Publicly, Bush was a gracious loser, congratulating his opponent on an issue-driven and honest campaign. 'We ran the good race, we ran hard,' he told his disappointed supporters on election night. 'I learned a lot about myself. I just was a better person for having run.'
"Privately, however, George W. was being subjected to his own personal hell...So, much to his wife's dismay, Junior found solace in another friend -- Jack Daniels." ("Fortunate Son," pages 63-64)
The line -- "No way will I ever be 'out-Texaned or out-Christianed' again" -- was ascribed to Bush by the screenwriter. However, it accurately reflects Bush's actual feelings at the time of his loss to Hance and was a lesson that he heeded in the future. He was never again "out-Texaned" or "out-Christianed" or "out-good-old-boyed." And he never lost another election.