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In Texas, so many politicians’ names sound alike

COMMENTARY | June 14, 2012

Sometimes borrowed name identification helps a candidate; it did for George W. Bush, for example, and possibly some others that columnist Dave McNeely points out.

By Dave McNeely

AUSTIN—When the relatively unknown Grady Yarbrough qualified for the Democratic primary runoff for the U.S. Senate to be held July 31, we said it had a lot to do with his last name.
It's similar to that of the late progressive hero, U.S. Sen. Ralph Yarborough.
The runoff is with former state Rep. Paul Sadler of Henderson, who got 35.1 percent to Yarbrough's 25.8 percent. Two other candidates split the rest, and forced the runoff because no one got a majority.
Some speculate Yarbrough made the runoff because he is African-American. But we think it has more to do with borrowed name identification, partly because he also twice made runoffs years ago in two different Republican statewide primaries.
As for borrowed name identification, George W. Bush almost certainly would never have been elected Texas governor and then president if dad George Bush hadn't been vice-president and then president.
Warren G. Harding probably wouldn't have been elected Dallas County treasurer and then state treasurer if he hadn't had the same name as a former U.S president.
John Connally probably was helped running for governor in 1962 because Tom Connally – no relation -- had been a U.S. senator from Texas from 1929 until 1953.
Yarbrough's opponent, Paul Sadler, also has a well-inow surname in Texas; a Sadler once held two different statewide offices, and ran unsuccessfully for a third: Jerry Sadler of Palestine. He was elected to the Texas Railroad Commission in 1938; lost a challenge to incumbent Gov. W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel in 1940; and resigned the Railroad Commission in 1942, during World War II, to re-enter the Army.
In 1946, he ran a losing race for governor, and then was elected to the Texas House in 1954. After three two-year terms, in 1960 he was elected Texas' land commissioner. Sadler was on Texas ballots every two years until 1970, when he was ousted by then-state Rep. Bob Armstrong of Austin. Armstrong spent 12 years as Land Commissioner. Sadler ran for the railroad commission twice more, unsuccessfully. He announced for land commissioner again in 1981, but died before the election.
But the Yarborough name has more resonance with voters.
After losing a race for attorney general in 1938, Ralph Yarborough ran three times for governor in the early 1950s -- narrowly missing election in a 1956 Democratic primary runoff against then-U.S. Sen. Price Daniel Sr.
But then Yarborough won the 1957 special election to replace Daniel in the Senate.
He was re-elected in 1958 and 1964, before being displaced in the 1970 Democratic primary by Lloyd Bentsen Jr.
Don Yarborough – no relation to the senator – ran for governor in 1962, 1964 and 1968. He lost the Democratic primary all three times, but narrowly lost a runoff to John Connally in 1962, and led into a runoff in 1968, which he lost to Preston Smith.
Ralph Yarborough made a comeback try for the Senate in 1972, for the seat held by U.S. Sen. John Tower. Yarborough led strongly in the first Democratic primary, but lost a runoff to Barefoot Sanders. Sanders lost to Tower that fall, and later was appointed a U.S. district judge.
In 1976, another Don Yarbrough – spelled like the current runoff candidate – was a surprise victor for a seat of the Texas Supreme Court. But while efforts were underway in 1977 to impeach him for earlier crimes, he quit the court, and in 1981 fled to Grenada.
The current Yarbrough, a native of East Texas, is no stranger to the Texas ballot. He ran for the Republican nomination for land commissioner in 1986, losing in a runoff to another borrowed name ID candidate, M.D. Anderson Jr.
Incumbent Democrat Garry Mauro held press conferences around the state with easel displays of M.D. Anderson Jr., and of the M.D. Anderson cancer center, to show voters that the two were not related. He won handily.
In 1990, Yarbrough lost a Republican runoff for land commissioner to Wes Gilbreath. Again, Democrat Mauro won the general election.
In 1994, Yarbrough lost the Democratic nomination for state treasurer, but
actually got more than a third of the vote against appointed incumbent Martha Whitehead. (She pledged to abolish the office if elected, and she did.)
Sadler, 57, hopes the fact he's in a runoff will cause supporters to open their wallets -- to make sure he beats Yarbrough, 75, a former educator.
He'll also be hoping a probably lower turnout election will bring voters to the polls knowing just who they're voting for.
In the Republican U.S. Senate runoff, wealthy Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, 66, hopes his money and name identification can offset the Tea Party fervor and Super PAC support for former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, 41.
We'll see.


Precinct Chair
Posted by JC Dufresne
06/15/2012, 12:51 PM

I don't buy the claims of confusion with Ralph or Don. I have yet to meet anyone who isn't an old time political junkie that even knows who those people are. If you haven't been in Texas for at least 20 years or weren't born prior to 1980 you'd have no reason to recognize those names. I realize a lot Texas voters are older and that many are natives but who really remembers Senators from 40 years ago? I was 12 years old when Ralph was a Senator I can barely figure out who was President back then.

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