Candidate Bush gathers steam as Texas legislature winds down
But will history repeat itself with a Muskie-like meltdown?
May 28, 1999
Web posted at: 7:30 p.m. EDT (2330 GMT)
AUSTIN, Texas (AllPolitics, May 28) -- As the Texas legislature heads into the home stretch of its current session, freeing Gov. George W. Bush to pursue his presidential ambitions, Bush already seems to have been virtually anointed as the 2000 GOP nominee -- more than a year before the national convention.
Governors, congressmen and party pooh-bahs of every description have offered their endorsements. Bush runs well ahead of potential opponents, in both parties, in early polls. He has raised a mountain of money.
A generation ago, however, another White House hopeful, Democratic Sen. Edmund Muskie, looked in similarly strong shape. But history records no President Muskie.
Muskie had been Vice President Hubert Humphrey's running mate in 1968. The ticket lost to Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, but the senator from Maine got high marks for his campaigning. He looked even better speaking for his party in the 1970 midterm elections.
Many Democrats endorsed Muskie for the 1972 nomination early. They remembered the chaotic campaign of 1968 and decided this time to be practical.
But undaunted by his party's passion for Muskie, Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota ran his own passionately anti-war campaign. When Muskie stumbled, breaking down into tears after an attack by a New Hampshire newspaper, he learned that endorsements counted for little.
McGovern won the nomination and went on to be crushed by Nixon. In the process, Democrats were left with a left-wing image that plagued them into the 1990s.
Governor endorsements boost Bush
The lesson of the Muskie campaign is that endorsements don't guarantee success. However, Bush has been endorsed by many governors, rather than senators. And governors tend to have the best political organizations in their states. The large amount of money that Bush has raised early should also keep the Muskie scenario at bay.
Bush supporters are also touting the governor's achievements in Texas this year.
He proposed a $2 billion cut in property, sales and business taxes, on top of a $1 billion tax cut two years ago. Bush is also pushing for a $3.8 billion package of educational improvements that would add school programs and raise teacher salaries.
If Bush's agenda makes it through in the legislature's final days, many analysts believe it will help his presidential campaign.
"He got a fair amount of what he asked for out of this session," said Richard Murray of the University of Houston. "He'll be able to take the tax cut and wave it across Iowa and New Hampshire in Steve Forbes' face."
As for the governor himself, Bush has his own ideas about how the American public should view his legislative legacy.
"I'm a person who set clear goals. I try to do a few things and do them well," he said. "I hope people will say, 'This is a fella who knows how to lead, who is able to achieve results by working with others.'"
Correspondents Bruce Morton and Mark Potter contributed to this report.