Ann Richards, Trailing in Governor's Race, Is HopefulMICHAEL HOLMES , Associated Press
Aug. 21, 1990 2:33 AM ET
AUSTIN, TEXAS AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ Outspent, out-advertised and trailing in the polls, Ann Richards says her bid for governor is doing just fine.
''I've really felt up in about the last two weeks,'' the Democratic nominee said. ''We're running on target, except we've raised more money than I thought we would.''
During those last two weeks, her Republican opponent, oilman-rancher Clayton Williams, has been thrown on the defensive by news reports questioning his business acumen. And Richards has pounced on the issue.
A hard-hitting TV commercial that began airing Friday portrays multimillionai re Williams as a troubled businessman who misused employees, is mired in debt and lawsuits and wants to keep it all secret.
''Let's look behind the screen on Claytie TV,'' the ad says.
The commercial was Richards' first post-primary television ad and came after weeks of battering from Williams' TV commercials.
Williams' aides called the 30-second spot mudslinging and a sign of desperation.
''The farther she falls behind in the polls, the more bizarre a sideshow her campaign is becoming,'' said Gordon Hensley, Williams' press secretary. ''Mr. Williams is a man of honesty and integrity and the polls are showing that the voters of Texas believe this to be the case.''
Williams on Friday countered with his new 30-second spot, which accuses Richards of wrongdoing in the savings and loan debacle.
The commercial suggests Richards, as state treasurer, assisted S&L executives in getting state deposits, accepted their political contributions and then destroyed records showing where state money was deposited.
Richards said the ad is ''totally false ... and Clayton Williams and his campaign staff know it.''
Richards, who gained wide recognition with her caustic keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, survived a brutal primary and runoff but has trailed in the few polls made public since. The most recent, a survey of 821 Texans taken Aug. 5-8 for several TV stations, showed Williams ahead 49 percent to 38 percent. No margin of error was given.
The Democrat said she isn't bothered by such numbers. She said that the numbers are holding, even though Williams has been on television almost continuously since June.
But the polls also show a small number of undecided voters, around 13 percent. And some Texas Democrats have said privately they are worried.
With Williams and the well-funded Sen. Phil Gramm atop the Republican ticket, those Democrats are wondering just which of their candidates down the ballot could be the ''stopper'' to a GOP sweep.
Williams has raised some $13 million and spent $11.3 million, more than $6 million of that his own money, according to July 1 campaign finance reports. Richards reported raising and spending just under $6 million.
Karl Rove, a Republican consultant, said Richards has failed to offer any message beyond her ''New Texas'' slogan. ''She's determined to run a vacuous campaign,'' he said. ''She's not going to talk about substance or issues.''
Richards aides dispute that. Campaign consultant Glenn Smith said Richards is exposing the real story behind Williams' TV image.
Early in the race, Williams drew the wrath of women's groups when he likened bad weather to rape. ''If it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it,'' Williams said. Later, he admitted visiting prostitutes as a young man.
For her part, Richards, a recovering alcoholic, was dogged during the primary by allegations of drug use. She repeatedly refused to say whether she had ever used illegal drugs.
The focus turned to business after newspaper reports Aug. 5 said that Williams' net worth has fallen by almost two-thirds since 1982, when he estimated it at $300 million, and that a researcher hired by one of his primary opponents said half the 26 companies he founded had been sold or dissolved.
''I am not backing up one bit on my business record,'' Williams countered. ''I've had companies that broke even that I didn't keep and some that were extremely successful.''
The Democrats have paired the attack on his business dealings with a demand that he make public his tax returns, something he has refused to do.
Williams recently said it would ''take a Mack truck'' to carry his returns.
Richards quickly sent a Mack truck to his headquarters.