GOP Banks on Straight-Ticket Voters

Even if Bill Clements doesn’t succeed in wresting the governorship from the Democrats next month, Dallas County Republicans may have a victory to savor on election night. For the first time in recent memory, the GOP has put together a respectable slate of candidates for 15 state- and county-level judgeships. If even half of the candidates are successful in November, it could represent a Republican inroad at the courthouse more significant than Sheriff Carl Thomas’s unseating of Clarence Jones in 1976.

This year’s Republican judicial slate, unlike its predecessors, is solidly respected in the legal community. All four of the GOP candidates for state district court – former assistant district attorney John Ovard, criminal attorney Jack Hampton, Pat Guillot, and Craig Fowler – were winners of a Dallas Bar Association poll on judicial candidates this past spring.

Aside from having the right men, the GOP may also have picked the right time and the right place for a strong judicial challenge. The composition of the 1978 ballot clearly favors the Republicans: The U.S. senatorial race heads the ballot, meaning rank and file Republicans will be out in force November 7 to support John Tower. Gubernatorial challenger Clements starts the state and local races, meaning Republican crossover and conservative Democratic “switch-back” voting will be minimal. Most Republicans, and probably a lot of conservative Democrats, will pull the GOP lever straight through the ballot.

That could be all the Republican judicial candidates need. Voting in the judge-ship races, far down on the ballot, is generally light. Those few who vote in the judgeship races will likely be “constituents” – members of the legal community – and straight lever pullers. Without a strong presidential or senatorial candidate at the top of the ballot, a lot of Democratic incumbents could find themselves on the other side of the bench in January.

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