Bill Clinton may or may not have been given a Texas-size boot in the pants last weekend. The fact that Democratic Sen. Bob Krueger got about 29 percent of the vote and finished second in a race to fill the Lloyd Bentsen Senate vacancy may be more a reflection on Mr. Krueger than on the president. Mr. Krueger, who was appointed in January to sit in the Senate till a special election, has a prior record of doing poorly in statewide races.
But the fact that he and all other Democrats got about a third of the votes while Republican candidates got about 60 percent is certainly not good news for President Clinton's party, whoever and whatever are to blame. The leading Republican candidate, State Treasurer Kay Bailey Hutchison, not only came in first, but immediately got the endorsement of her major Republican opponents. She is now the clear favorite in the run-off, according to Texas analysts.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole has been predicting adding a new member from Texas to his 43-senator bloc. Since 43 is enough to force Democrats to compromise, going to 44 would have more symbolic than legislative importance. But the symbolism of a Republican victory, particularly if it is a big enough one to suggest that most Perot supporters vote Republican in a two-way contest, would be alarming to a president looking ahead to 1996.
Texas' other Senate seat is held by Republican Phil Gramm. For 32 years, Texas has had one Republican and one Democratic senator. Is this a tradition -- hedging its bets -- or happenstance? Senator Krueger, President Clinton and Democratic Gov. Ann Richards better pray it's tradition.