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All Eyes on Texas For Republican and Democratic Debates

February 17, 1988

DALLAS (AP) _ All eyes turn toward Texas this week as Democratic and Republican presidential candidates converge on Dallas for the first major event of the Super Tuesday campaign - the Texas debates.

The 12 candidates who survived the New Hampshire primary have set their sights on the 20 states holding primaries on Super Tuesday, March 8, focusing much of their attention on Texas, which leads the states with 183 Democratic and 111 Republican delegates.

″Texas is the crown jewel in this because we are the largest,″ said state Democratic Party Chairman Bob Slagle.

The debates, which will be aired nationally on the Public Broadcasting System from Southern Methodist University, begin Thursday at 9 p.m. EST with the Democratic candidates. The GOP hopefuls debate the following night.

Sen. Albert Gore Jr., a Tennessee Democrat who calls Southern states key to a presidential win, and Vice President George Bush, a Republican candidate who maintains a Houston address, say they welcome the chance to debate in Dallas.

Topics likely to take center stage in the debates include economic issues in the Southwest, including unemployment and the energy industry.

Bush, a former congressman from Houston who still claims it as his home, is all too familiar with Texas issues such as energy, immigration policy and the business climate, said Kevin Moomaw, his Texas political director in Austin.

″Certainly, with a 40-year association in this state, and with George Jr. from Midland, he understands what’s going on down here,″ Moomaw said.

Presidential candidates with Southern ties may have the edge in the debates, which come only two days after the New Hampshire primary, in which Bush won the Republican race and Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis outdistanced the Democratic field.

Gore, a Democrat, de-emphasized the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses in his strategy, concentrating his efforts on the South.

″With 20 states and about 40 percent of the delegates chosen on that day, it made sense to focus his efforts down here,″ said Tom Jurkovich, Texas coordinator for the Gore campaign in Austin. ″Being from the region gives him an understanding of the people and concerns. That gives him a certain edge.″

Gore was dead last in Iowa after pulling his campaign out of that state last year.

″This is our chance to counter Iowa and New Hampshire and say those two states are too big for their britches and their britches are not all that big at that,″ Slagle said.

The debates are sponsored by The Dallas Morning News, KERA-TV and Texas Monthly magazine. Roger Mudd, a special correspondent on ″The MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour″ and former co-anchor of ″NBC Nightly News,″ will moderate.

All the candidates are expected to take part in the debate.

″Besides those issues, what’s important is how these guys come across, and it may be that many Texans will now start focusing on the presidential race,″ Slagle said. ″Texans have said they want to be able to have a say early on who the next president is.″

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