Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Landslide Lyndon and Landslide Hillary?

As we await results from both the primary and caucus in Texas, one can't help but think of Robert Caro's massive 3-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, serialized (in part) in the New Yorker, was centered around the seminal election of the young LBJ's career: a statewide race.

Like Hillary, LBJ had staked his political career on the Senate race. He gave up his seat in Congress, and had told friends, according to Caro, that he would leave politics forever if he lost to the popular former two-term Governor. (LBJ actually did lose to Coke Stevenson once, in the first primary with three candidates, held on July 24, 1948; but this was the run-off, between just the two men.)

LBJ had actually run previously, in 1941, and lost by a total of 1,311 votes to Pappy O'Daniel, despite leading by more than 5,000 votes with 96% of the vote counted. The last 4% didn't go LBJ's way.

Like Hillary's strength in the current race, LBJ put his faith in the "Valley" -- counties like Webb, Zapata, Brooks, and the rest. Many of these counties were under the control of party bosses, who could -- in Caro's delicate phrasing -- "control" the primary process. In Duval County, the votes came in on Election Day (Saturday, August 28, 1948) with LBJ out-polling Stevenson 4,195 to 38. 99.1%

The race was close and hotly-contested statewide, but the former Governor clung to a small lead. Stevenson's statewide margin as reported at 1:30am on Saturday night/Sunday morning, was 854 votes.

But Duval County was not done. The day after the election (Sunday, August 29, 1948), an additional ballot box was found, surprisingly enough in the very precinct where Duval boss George Parr voted. The box was opened, and added 110 votes to the LBJ column, against just 1 for Stevenson.

The various precincts checked their results, and Stevenson's aides (who had incredibly cancelled scheduled primaries in some Stevenson-friendly counties because of over-confidence (according to Caro)). By the following Friday, six days after the election, Stevenson's lead had been whittled to a mere 157 votes.

But in checking and re-checking the ballots, Duval County found an error. Precinct 13, which had previously reported 765 votes for LBJ, found an error. In Caro's words:
The figure for Johnson, which was reported as 765 on Election Night, was now 965 -- because since Election Night, according to testimony given later, someone had added a loop to the "7" to make it into a "9". Johnson had 200 more votes.
The legend of "Landslide Lyndon" -- winning a 1,000,000 person primary by a mere 87 votes was born.

A few weeks ago, Hillary compared herself to LBJ. We may find another reason to compare them tonight.

Or maybe in a few days.

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