In 1972, a year after the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age in Texas to 18, Garry Mauro was working for a nonpartisan voter-registration campaign when he got a call from a Yale Law School student working on the George McGovern presidential campaign.
“One day I get a call from a woman who says, ‘I work for the DNC. I’ve come to Texas to try to register the 18-year-old voters, the Hispanics, the African-Americans, and we’re going to have an anti-voter intimidation probe,’ ” Mauro recounted.
The call was from Hillary Rodham, and it was the beginning of the Clintons’ long relationship with Mauro, who would go on to become Texas land commissioner, and with Texas.
Along with her classmate Bill Clinton, she worked for several months in Texas for the doomed campaign of McGovern, who lost in a landslide to Richard Nixon. Bill Clinton was a leader of the state campaign, and Hillary Clinton headed up voter registration, working primarily in the Rio Grande Valley. They brought on Mauro, who now heads her campaign in Texas, as the director of young voter outreach.
Hours after the Democratic National Convention formally nominated Hillary Clinton for the presidency, Bill Clinton on Tuesday night drew big applause from the Texas delegation when he mentioned his wife’s work in the state.
“She went down to South Texas, where she met one of the nicest fellows I ever met, the wonderful union leader Franklin Garcia, and he helped her register Mexican-American voters,” he said. “I think some of them are still around to vote for her in 2016.”
Texas has proved to be one of the most important states to the Clintons’ careers outside of their home states, Arkansas and Illinois, and New York, where they live now. The Lone Star State was critical to their political educations, and they have deep ties to local Democrats that have paid off.
A win in Texas was critical to Bill Clinton’s winning the Democratic nomination in 1992. Hillary Clinton’s narrow victory in Texas over Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary kept her faltering campaign alive, and a Texas-sized win over U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in Texas this year helped keep the nomination out of reach for the Vermont senator.
It all goes back to the ‘72 campaign, Mauro said.
“She knew how to talk to just ordinary South Texans,” Mauro said. “I’m not sure where they get all that stuff about her not being a very good campaigner.”
While living in Texas, the Clintons frequented iconic old Austin haunts like the Armadillo World Headquarters, Scholz Garten and the Dry Creek Cafe. On campaign stops years later, they favored Güero’s Taco Bar.
“We saw Jerry Jeff Walker at least three times” at the Armadillo, Mauro said. “They were here when Austin was still weird.”
Mauro is among the last wave of Democrats to win a statewide race, in 1994. The last Democratic presidential candidate to win Texas was Jimmy Carter in 1976. While it’s unlikely Clinton will break the GOP winning streak this year, Mauro said it’s possible because of the changing demographics of the state and her popularity with groups historically excluded from the political process.
“She is going to carry women, carry African-Americans, carry Asians, carry Hispanics. I went to A&M, but even those numbers add up to me as a clear majority,” Mauro said. “If I had gone to Trump University, I might have a different answer.”