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Texas | Columns | All Things Historical

LBJ AND
EAST TEXAS POLITICS

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
Lyndon B. Johnson’s victory over Coke Stevenson for a Senate seat by only 87 votes earned this future president the nickname of "Landslide Lyndon." Everyone agrees that Johnson’s aides "stole" that election by "finding" additional votes for their candidate in Box 13 in Jim Wells County. What everyone might not know is that Johnson had been burned by a similar tactic in a special Senate race in 1941, and had vowed never to be caught short again.
Lyndon B. Johnson boyhood  home,  Johnson City, Texas
"Boyhood Home of Lundon B. Johnson"

Postcard courtesy rootsweb.com/~txgenweb// postcards/Index.html
W. Lee O’Daniel served as governor when Senator Morris Sheppard died in 1941, and the Legislature, disgusted with O’Daniel’s leadership, urged him to appoint himself as Sheppard’s replacement, mostly to get him out of the governorship. O’Daniel appointed 87-year-old Andrew Jackson Houston, instead, someone not likely to challenge him in an election. Indeed, Houston died soon afterward.

O’Daniel did file in the special election to determine Sheppard’s successor, as did 28 others, including Congressmen Martin Dies and Lyndon Johnson. Johnson and O’Daniel campaigned hard for the post, and their styles differed greatly. O’Daniel campaigned as he had for governor, in rural areas with country musicians playing "That Old Time Religion." Johnson flaunted his connections with the New Deal through the slogan "Franklin D and Lyndon B—That’s Good Enough For Me."

Early returns on election day favored Johnson, which caused him to make a fatal mistake. It was assumed that both sides were "buying" votes, and that Johnson’s strength would lie in Central and South Texas and O’Daniel’s in East Texas. So when Johnson looked like a sure winner, the word went out to his South Texas representatives to go on and report their votes, which gave him a lead of over 5,000 votes. "Barring a miracle," said and official of the Texas Election Bureau, Johnson had won. That "miracle" occurred in East Texas, where officials suddenly found thousands of votes that had not been counted or reported, and most of them favored O’Daniel. Only 46 percent of Shelby County’s vote had gone to O’Daniel, but he gained 64 percent of the "new" votes. Similar discovers in Newton, Angelina, Anderson, Cass, Panola, Van Zandt, and other counties, eventually gave O’Daniel a winning margin of over 1,000 votes.

Some of Johnson’s team wanted to protest the likely fraud in those returns, but he declined. At the same time, he vowed never to be so cheated again, or, as some opponents charged after his equally questionable victory in 1948, he just learned to cheat more successfully.


© Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical
January 5, 2005 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.)

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