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The Backstory: Ann Richards and the close election of 1990

Thirty-two years ago this week, a well known Austinite began her journey to the Governor’s Mansion as Texas's top elected official.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas primary election of 1990 was one for the history books. It was the year State Treasurer Ann Richards made a run for the governor's office, up against two other well known Texas Democrats, then-Attorney General Jim Maddox from Dallas and former Gov. Mark White from Houston. That spring saw a fiery primary battle, with Maddox running a particularly abrasive campaign against Richards, accusing her of having drug problems.

But on primary election night in March 1990, Richards won a razor-thin victory over Maddox, although neither reached a majority of the vote. In the subsequent runoff election, Richards beat Maddox 57% to 43%.

She then faced a Republican candidate for governor, Clayton Williams, a cattleman and millionaire who led in the polling and seemed destined to be the next governor until a series of missteps, the most notorious occurring when he made a joke to reporters about the crime of rape.

In the November general election that year, Richards defeated Williams and declared victory. She went on to serve only one term as governor, losing to George W. Bush in 1994. But Richards remained active in politics until her death in 2006.

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