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Remembering the tumultuous 1990 Texas Democratic primary election

It was a fiery primary race between then-Attorney General Jim Mattox, former Governor Mark White and then-State Treasurer Ann Richards.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Democratic primary election of 1990 featured State Treasurer Ann Richards making a run for the governor’s office. She faced two other well-known Texas Democrats for the nomination: Attorney General Jim Mattox from Dallas and former Texas Governor Mark White from Houston.

It was a fiery primary race with Mattox running a particularly abrasive campaign against Richards, accusing her of having drug problems.

On primary election night, Richards won a razor-thin victory over Mattox. But neither reached a majority of the vote. In the subsequent runoff election, Richards beat Mattox, 57% to 43%


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As the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Richards went up against the Republican candidate for governor, Clayton Williams – a cattleman and millionaire – in the November general election. 

Williams led in most polls during the campaign season and seemed destined to be the next Texas governor until a series of missteps – the most notorious of which was when he made a joke to reporters about the crime of rape – were generally believed to have cost him the election.

Richards defeated Williams and went on to serve one term as governor before losing to George W. Bush in 1994. But she remained active in Democratic politics until her death in 2006.

All three governors that have served since Richards – Bush, Rick Perry and Greg Abbott – have been Republicans.

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