voters by 51-47 per cent. A few weeks
earlier, the odds were in Carter's favor 53-
39 per cent.
Senator Kennedy has made some limited gains in recent weeks. As Breakthrough
goes to press on the eve of the April 22
Pennsylvania primary, followed by the
Michigan caucuses April 26, it is possible
the race for the Democratic Presidential
nomination might take on a new look.
But Dr. Murray maintains that Kennedy's chances of winning the nomination
are extremely slim.
"The opinion gap may close over the
next few months," he says, "but the senator is in terrible shape as far as delegate
Yet, the Carter people admit they are
cautious. "The Carter campaign here is a
very nervous one," Pool says. "A little
less than a year ago, it looked as though
President Carter was politically dead, and
then four or five events occurred and the
whole picture changed. If Kennedy does
well in Pennsylvania, he could do well in
Texas," he says.
Pool, however, contends that "Chap-
paquidick is a serious issue. It concerns
the deep personal traits of a candidate,"
which cannot be dismissed lightly, he says.
Dr. Murray feels it will be more of an
issue in Texas and the Southern primaries.
"The personal character of candidates is
becoming increasingly important to
Kennedy's personal life, particularly
the Chappaquidick incident, seems to
present an immense stumbling block,
even to many enlightened liberals.
One Houston journalist admits that he
simply finds it hard to support or trust a
man whose moral character appears to be
so deeply flawed. But, he adds, "If it
were Reagan versus Kennedy, redemption
could come mighty fast."
As might be expected, Carr has a rebuttal on Chappaquidick. "It's just ridiculous and unfair to use an incident like
that as a way of evaluating whether a man
is capable of being president," Carr says
heatedly. "No one can predict how he or
she will react in a life-threatening situation. I just want to take all the presidential candidates and have them have an accident and see how they handle it. Then,
you might have grounds for taking that
into consideration," she says.
Carr, who professes a deep faith in
Kennedy and his programs, says that his
16-year Senate record is what voters
should look at instead. His record indicates that he is a relentless "force for the
liberal progressive movement."
Since his election in 1976, President
Carter has "gotten off the track we nominated him for and the things he promised
he would do," she reminds us. "I think
we have to put him back on that track,
through a Kennedy candidacy, or replace
him with a Kennedy nomination." She
says she intends to stick with the senator's campaign up to the eleventh hour.
"It's just mind-boggling, that out of
some 245 million people in this country,
our choice for the President of the United
Stated might well boil down to Carter or
Reagan!" Carr shudders at the thought,
saying "I think this is the most frustrating
time in my political life."
Mo?t committed Democrats here admit that the danger of a Ronald Reagan
victory in November ultimately eclipses
"This country is in serious, serious
trouble, probably the most serious trouble it's been in since World War II," says
Anne Greene, chair of the Harris County
Democratic Party. "The economy is an
unbelievable disaster, international events
are getting out of control, and we,
the Democrats, are going to need absolutely everyone we can get to win the
election in November, regardless of who
receives the Democratic nomination," she
says. Greene is publicly supporting Senator Kennedy's nomination.
At this stage, however, it's the Carter
supporters who seem to be sounding the
call for party unity.
Congressman MickeyLeland feels that
Reagan poses a serious threat to his constituency, and that only Carter is strong
enough to defeat the former California
governor in November. Through his aide
Jo Anderson, Leland says he believes it is
crucial for Texas Democrats to get organized and united early in the race, well before the Democratic National Convention
Hofheinz and the Kennedy people, on
the other hand, fear Carter may not be
able to defeat Reagan come November.
"Carter is a dismally weak President,"
charges Hofheinz, "probably the weakest
president of the 20th century. He has no
sense of his real power, he doesn't know
how to make the presidency work. He
cannot relegate authority, to his cabinet
members, his advisors, to anyone."
Pool takes exception. "You may disagree with his head, but you can't disagree
with his heart and Carter's heart is in the
"This president needs to be challenged," Hofheinz says with a sense of
urgency, and then concluding his thought
he adds, "He's a screw-up."
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In this interview Billie Carr explains why she
thinks the Democratic party should abandon
presidential primaries and move toward a convention system from the precinct system on up
as a means of selecting delegates to the national
Victoria Smith: There seems to be a lot of confusion about this upcoming Texas presidential
primary on May 3. Only the insiders seem to
know that it's just a preference poll, or a straw
vote. Is it going to help anybody-liberals or
Billie Carr: This oddball preference primary
they threw at us might tend to hurt everybody.
I mean, people will think that since they voted
that day they won't have to. do anything else
and they might be less likely to come back that
evening for the precinct convention.
VS: What about political analyst Dr. Richard
Murray's remark that the conservative turnout
might be lower this year?
BC: Well, we expected the Republicans to
draw about a million people if Connally was on
the ballot. If Bush still is in, they could draw as
many as 650,000 to 800,000. If Bush falters
and is out in Pennsylvania then, I think, they're
back to about 500,000.
VS: And then where do the conservatives go?
BC: Well, they either come over to the Democratic primary and vote, or they just stay home
and put a pox on everybody's house, and that's
probably what Murray is saying. The conservatives probably don't have much incentive for
voting in this primary. The conservatives really
don't like Carter much either because they
don't think he's one of them. Carter's a man
without a country, when it comes to a label.
VS: You're an advocate of the precinct convention system. You view it as the purest form
of democracy and prefer it as a means of selecting presidential candidates to the primary system. Why is that?
BC: Well, when you come to your party's precinct convention with your neighbors, you're in
a forum where you can talk openly. You can
say, 'I'm for Kennedy because' or 'Let me tell
you why I think we all ought to be for Kennedy in this precinct.' And your neighbors can
say, 'Well, yes, but look at what Carter has
done,' and then they make their points. At a
convention after people hear you present your
case you may win them over to your candidate.
I think that's a pretty good system, that's
really grass roots.
But, if you go by the media, what you see
on TV, what you've read in the daily papers
and what you pick up through all kinds of PR
gimmicks then you go in there, blind, and you
vote for whomever Roger Mudd or Dan Rather
told you to vote for.
During the Iowa caucuses, David Brinkley
really surprised me. He made the statement on
the news, that 'Gee, isn't that something,
people get together in buildings, in their homes,
in places and precincts all over Iowa, and they
sit down and talk about what they like and
dislike about candidates and issues, and maybe
that's a better system, maybe that's the way it
ought to be.' I picked up on that, and thought,
'Doesn't he know that's what the caucuses and
convention system is?'
Well, this has been going on for a long time
but the media has never picked up on the fact
that democracy is at that convention, when you
have a chance to exchange ideas, pass resolutions, and talk about the hot issues. It's not
walking in a voting booth after work when
you're tired, and traffic was bad, and you just
pull a lever, and go home and flop.
VS: Many liberals will disagree with you, because they believe that it's more democratic to
let everyone off the street come in and vote
and then the people have had their say.
BC: The people who are willing to come back
Saturday night to attend the convention are the
people who really care. Everybody can come
back to that convention and have their say.
And that seems to me to be a fairer system than
the primary system. Then, in the general election in November, you can vote. If you don't
like our choice, you're free to vote, in the privacy of that voting booth, for anyone you want
-Republican, Democrat, independent, third
VS: What are the shortcomings of the primary
system? Can you give examples from recent
BC: McGovern was good, but couldn't win a
general election. The primary system gave us a
false sense of strength of his candidacy. People
were willing to support him in the primary, but
not in the general election.
Next time, the primary system gave us Jimmy Carter, basically a complete unknown. And
he became president-kind of a "30-days-and-
you-too-can-become-president." This is the result essentially of having moved more and more
to primaries. And I'm thinking that we ought to
move to a convention system all along the way.
It's a better system.
VS: How do you plan to get people to come to
the precinct conventions?
BC: We're encouraging our people to be at all
the polling places and to have a table out front
or some way to identify themselves as a Kennedy Information Center. Then when people
come out of the polls and if they're interested
in supporting Senator Kennedy they'll tell them
to come back to the precinct convention that
night. They'll identify the floor leaders for
them, tell them whom to watch for and then
give them a button or some i.d. to wear to the
Prior to that, we'll be polling the precincts,
and hunting people who support the senator.
VS: So, that's the general strategy?
BC: That's part of it. Carter people will do that,
Kennedy people will do that, uncommitteds
will do that. In certain precincts, where we
know we haven't a very good chance-like a
River Oaks box, or a box with lots of conservative Democrats-you work quietly and sort of
tip-toe around, and try to turn out only your
people and hope that the opposition doesn't
know where the conventions are. The name of
the game is to win as many delegates as you
can. It's like any other campaign, you're naturally not going to encourage other people to
come and vote against you.
The truth is that everyone is going to fish in
the pond where the most fish are, and we're all
going to work the hell out of the precincts we
think we can win. This isn't a game, it's not a
tea party, this has something to do with what
happens to the country, and it's for real, and
we're really trying to turn out our people to be
VS: In a way, though, it does seem like a game.
Isn't a primary poll supposed to be the "people's choice?"
BC: What we want to know is what the people
think in November, when the people vote,
when we have a general election, but this the
primary is different. It's like a club, like any
other club or organization, and within our club,
we are trying to pick candidates who best represent our ideology and our platform.
Then, we run them against the Republican
party, which is another club. In the State of
Texas we don't have "party purity," so that in
our "club" anyone can be a member who wants
to. You don't have a way to protect your
For instance, the Right to Life people can
come in and influence our nominations on a
single issue. That isn't allowed in the Boy
Scouts of America, or the League of Women
Voters. They're not going to let you come in
and participate unless you're a member of their
club, but in the Democratic party, people get
this all confused with the nation that "we the
people" have a right to tell you, the Democrats,
whom to run.
But I disagree with that. The Democrats
wnat to promote the candidates whom we
think will best represent what »■ think that
party should be, through rules, r rrns, resolutions and proposals.
I am a progressive liberal, a ant to see
that candidates are the most prog ;ive liberal-
thinking people vt3 can get. I -A/am people who
are not going to be too eager to push a button,
or say things like George Bush, that we can win
a nuclear war, and other stupid things.