A herd of candidates for Lloyd Bentsen's Senate seat face each other [Monday night] in the first debate leading up to the May 1 special election. There are going to be 16 or so candidates on the ballot, and about half a dozen of them are being called "serious." That is, they are thought to have a chance to finish first or second in a field large enough to insure that no one will get a majority. The top two finishers go into a run-off in that case.
Not only do these senatorial candidates have a lot at stake, but so do:
Gov. Ann Richards. She appointed and is committed to newly incumbent Sen. Bob Krueger. If he is beaten by former Rep. Jim Mattox, her arch Democratic rival, she will be embarrassed politically. If Senator Krueger loses to a Republican, she will be wounded politically.
President Clinton. Republicans are trying to make Senator Krueger a stand-in for the president -- in a state where he did poorly last November. The Clinton policy on gays in the military and his cuts in defense spending and force levels are especially unpopular in Texas. Republicans have begun a voter registration drive aimed at military personnel. Two conservative Republican representatives and the state treasurer, a moderate and a woman, all think they have a shot at defeating Senator Krueger. Should he lose, and should politicians interpret it as a rebuke of the Clinton program, the president will soon find he has lost more than just that one vote in the Senate.
Ross Perot. He's got a lot at stake, too. Two candidates -- one an independent and one a Democrat -- are closely identified with United We Stand, America, the Perot organization (which is sponsoring the first debate). Neither has Mr. Perot's endorsement, but both are making it clear where they stand and with whom. One has adopted the 1992 Perot platform word for word. Both have private fortunes to spend. Anything that could be interpreted as a Perot victory in Texas -- and that probably includes even a close third-place finish -- will scare both the major parties in Washington and many states with key races next year.
Mr. Perot has already had an impact on the race. Senator Krueger is campaigning more as a Perotista than as the moderate-to-liberal Democrat he used to be known as. He's cut his own pay 20 percent, promised to cut his staff 20 percent, vowed war on other federal spending (but not the space station and super-collider, which mean Texas jobs) and was one of only two Democrats who joined Republicans in voting against final passage of the president's budget Thursday.