DALLAS – If President Bush begins to sound a little worried about his home state in November, it may be because of the Texas primary elections that concluded with a runoff on April 9. The Democratic ticket will be headed by two “firsts” for Texas: the first African-American candidate for U.S. Senate and the first Mexican-American candidate for Governor. Both candidates are strong on affirmative action and are not afraid to say so.

Almost all of the candidates endorsed by labor did well. In the primary election, the Texas AFL-CIO claimed 21 victories, only five losses and seven candidates in runoffs, including U.S. Senate candidate Ron Kirk of Dallas. They only lost one minor runoff election. Union people worked hard building and distributing yard signs, phone banking, putting endorsed candidates into union publications, speaking out and carrying the union’s message to workers in their homes and shops.

Kirk was down 7 points in the polls less than a week before the runoff, but just worked harder. A last-minute endorsement from the United Farm Workers helped him win Latino votes. He added San Antonio to the other Texas cities in his victory column and pulled out a 58-42 percent statewide win.

The pattern for the coming election may have been set on the morning after the election, when a spokesman for the Republican candidate played the race card early. He accused Democrats of using a “quota system” to select their ticket. Two days later, after the press howled about the race-baiting, their candidate began trying to retract the statement.

Union members were not only delighted with their choices in the Democratic primary, they also were cheered by news in the Republican primary. The son of one of the most anti-labor Congressmen in history, Dick Armey, sought the Republican nomination for his father’s seat. Papa Armey took out full-page ads, and labor-hater Sen. Phil Gramm recorded endorsement messages, but Armey Junior went down by a big margin. Another labor-hating Congressman just south of Armey’s district, Joe Barton, also tried to get the nomination for his son, but failed.

A mysterious but well-funded organization named “Free-PAC” practiced gay-bashing in the Republican primary. They circulated shameful leaflets against five nominees who had supported Texas legislation against hate-crimes and inferred that all five were gay; all five candidates won their primary races.

Informal vote totals indicated that only 620,000 of Texas’ 12 million voters went to the Democratic ballot boxes, but only around 220,000 Republicans voted in the runoff election.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org