1948 United States Senate election in Texas

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United States Senate election in Texas, 1948

← 1942 November 2, 1948 1954 →
  Senator Lyndon Johnson.jpg 3x4.svg
Nominee Lyndon B. Johnson Jack Porter
Party Democratic Republican
Popular vote 702,985 349,665
Percentage 66.22% 32.94%

U.S. Senator before election

W. Lee O'Daniel

Elected U.S. Senator

Lyndon B. Johnson

The 1948 United States Senate election in Texas was held on November 2, 1948. In the Democratic Party primary, U.S. Congressman and later President Lyndon B. Johnson defeated former Texas governor Coke Stevenson by an eighty-seven vote margin in a runoff election which was brought before Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black due to allegations of election fraud. Johnson went on to defeat Republican Jack Porter and was elected to his first full term in office as a U.S. Senator.

Democratic primary[edit]



Lady Bird Johnson Home Movie - LBJ's 1948 Senate Campaign
Johnson in the S-51 helicopter

Stevenson, Johnson, and Peddy were widely regarded as the front runners. On May 16, 1948, a poll showed Stevenson ahead of Johnson 64% to 28%. On June 20, the same poll showed Stevenson with 47% and Johnson with 37%.[1]

In mid-June 1948, Johnson's campaign was able to get access to a Sikorsky S-51 helicopter, a first for Texas political campaigns. Johnson's campaign dubbed the aircraft the "Johnson City Windmill". Johnson made campaign appearances around Texas six days a week from dawn to dusk and the spectacle drew large crowds to fairgrounds and other impromptu landing sites. In early July the S-51 was returned for required maintenance and the campaign switched to a smaller Bell 47D for the remainder of the campaign.[2]

The primary election was held on Saturday, July 24, 1948. Stevenson came in first with 40% of the vote to Johnson's 34% and conservative candidate George Peddy's 20%. [3]


Texas Democratic primary election
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Coke R. Stevenson 477,077 39.68%
Democratic Lyndon B. Johnson 405,617 33.73%
Democratic George E. B. Peddy 237,195 19.73%
Democratic Otis C. Myers 15,330 1.28%
Democratic Frank G. Cortez 13,344 1.11%
Democratic Roscoe H. Collier 12,327 1.03%
Democratic Cyclone Davis 10,871 0.90%
Democratic James F. Alford 9,117 0.76%
Democratic F. B. Clark 7,420 0.62%
Democratic Jesse C. Saunders 7,401 0.62%
Democratic Terrell Sledge 6,692 0.56%
Total votes 1,202,391 100.00%



LBJ's 1948 Senate Campaign Spots

Since no candidate earned a majority of the votes, a runoff was held between the top two finishers, Stevenson and Johnson.[1] Because third place finisher George Peddy was conservative, as was Stevenson, most political observers expected Stevenson would receive the support of former Peddy backers and easily win the runoff.[4]

During the runoff contest, Johnson campaigned even harder than he had for the first primary, while Stevenson's campaign flagged because Johnson's spending vastly surpassed Stevenson's.[5][6] Johnson campaigned hard in East Texas counties where the majority of voters had voted for Peddy in the primary, and he received the endorsements of two of Peddy's brothers.[7]:600 On the other hand, Stevenson committed errors including appearing presumptuous by traveling to Washington to be photographed meeting with senior Truman administration officials and posing in the Senate chamber before the runoff had even taken place.[8]

The small counties of Hansford and Kinney, which had favored Stevenson with margins of over three to one and over two to one respectively in the primary did not hold runoffs, assuming that their vote totals would not influence the outcome. If they had participated and Stevenson had won by the same margin as he had in the primary, the votes those counties might have enabled Stevenson to finish ahead of Johnson.[7]:602-603

In Howard County, which had quartered an Army Air Force Bombadier School during World War II, General Ira C. Eaker, former deputy commander of the Army Air Force, came out in support of Johnson ten days before the runoff. Stevenson's campaign counterattacked, but Eaker was defended by other prominent military officers and Johnson. Criticizing a prominent military leader so soon after World War II likely had a negative affect on Stevenson's turnout, while Howard County returned an abnormally high net gain for Johnson as compared to his gains in other areas.[7]:605-606

In San Augustine and Shelby counties, abnormally large net vote gains for Johnson were later attributed to "promises of contracts, loans and cash payments to individuals".[7]:603-604 Similar efforts in Gregg County by the Stevenson campaign led to gains for Stevenson and reversals for the Johnson campaign.[7]:606

A week before the runoff, a poll showed Stevenson leading Johnson 48% to 41%. The day before the runoff election, a poll showed Steven leading Johnson 53% to 47%.[1]


The runoff election was Saturday, August 28, 1948.[3][9] According to later analysis, approximately 113,000 voters who had voted for Stevenson in July did not participate in the August runoff election. In contrast, an estimated 4,000 voters who voted for Johnson in July didn't turn out in August. Stevenson is estimated to have received the support of half of Peddy's voters, whereas Johnson only got votes from one-fifth of Peddy's voters. Those who didn't vote in July or who had voted for minor candidates heavily supported Johnson.[7]:598-599

The vote count took a week, and was handled by the Democratic State Central Committee. Three days after the polls closed, results were still being tabulated and Stevenson led by a small amount.[10]

On September 2, Stevenson was still in the lead. Early on Friday, September 3, new vote tallies from Jim Wells and Duval Counties were announced, replacing previous counts and giving Johnson the lead.[11][12] Stevenson went to Alice, the Jim Wells County seat, and unsuccessfully attempted to see the list of voters, which at the time was locked in the vault of the Texas State Bank.[13]

Johnson was finally announced the winner by 87 votes out of 988,295 cast. There were many allegations of voter fraud, with the greatest focus on the last 202 "patently fraudulent"[7]:608 ballots from Mexican-American voters in Precinct 13 in Jim Wells County, whose names had been listed in alphabetical order with the same pen and handwriting.[14] Some of these voters insisted that they had not voted that day, while the last of the voters whose names appeared before the questionable entries on the voter roll stated that there had been no one behind him in line shortly before the polls closed.[15] Robert Caro made the case in his 1990 book that Johnson had thus stolen the election in Jim Wells County, and that there were thousands of fraudulent votes in other counties as well, including 10,000 votes switched in San Antonio.[16] Election judge Luis Salas said in 1977 that he had certified 202 fraudulent ballots for Johnson.[17] Salas, "said Mr. Parr ordered that 200‐odd votes be added to Mr. Johnson's total from Box 13. Mr. Salas said he had seen the fraudulent votes added in alphabetical order and had then certified them as authentic on orders from Mr. Parr."[18]

"We had the law to ourselves there," Mr. Salas said. "We had iron control. If a man was opposed to us, we'd put him out of business. Parr was the Godfather. He had life or death control. We could tell any election judge: 'Give us 50 percent of the vote, the other guy 20 per cent.' We had it made in every election."[18] Parr's influence in Jim Hogg and Duval counties alone are estimated to have delivered over one-thousand votes to Johnson.[7]:605

Legal battle[edit]

At 9:50 pm on Friday, September 10, the Johnson team obtained an ex parte temporary restraining order to prevent a recount in Jim Wells County.[19]

The state Democratic convention upheld Johnson. At midnight on September 13, the Democratic Party's Executive Committee voted to certify Johnson's nomination by a majority of one (29–28)[19], with the last vote cast on Johnson's behalf by Temple, Texas publisher Frank W. Mayborn.

At 6:25 am on Wednesday, September 15, Stevenson obtained a Temporary Restraining Order from District Judge Whitfield Davidson who was at a cabin on Caddo Lake which prevented certification of Johnson as the party's nominee.[19]

On September 21-22[19], Stevenson went to court and obtained an injunction that prevented Johnson from appearing on the general election ballot. Johnson, represented by his friend and future Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas (who was nominated to the Supreme Court by Johnson and would resign amid scandal in 1969), appealed to the federal courts where Justice Hugo Black, sitting as a circuit court judge, ruled that the jurisdiction over naming a nominee rested with the party, not the federal government, which effectively ended the dispute.


For years afterwards, the local community was "rife with rumor" concerning the events of the runoff election.[20]

In 1990, Robert Caro said, "People have been saying for 40 years, 'No one knows what really happened in that election,' and 'Everybody does it.' Neither of those statements is true. I don't think that this is the only election that was ever stolen, but there was never such brazen thievery." Caro said that Johnson was given the votes of "the dead, the halt, the missing and those who were unaware that an election was going on".[21]


Texas Democratic primary election runoff
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Lyndon B. Johnson 494,191 50.004%
Democratic Coke Stevenson 494,104 49.996%
Total votes 988,295 100.00%

Republican nomination[edit]

With Texas part of the Democratic Party's Solid South since the end of the Reconstruction era in the 1870s, the Democratic nomination for statewide office had long been considered tantamount to election.[22] In 1940, an independent oil producer, Homa Jackson Porter (1896-1986)[23], broke with the Democratic Party because of his opposition to a third term for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.[24] In the mid-1940s, Porter created the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, a statewide organization of oil producers, of which he became president.[24] Porter, usually known as H. J. Porter or Jack Porter, became a Republican after the 1940 election, and began a long term effort to construct a competitive Republican Party in Texas.[24]

In 1948, Carlos G. Watson initially received the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.[24] Watson, a loyal Republican who had run several unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate as a token candidate so that Democratic nominees would not be unopposed, agreed to step aside in favor of a more viable candidate if one could be found.[24] Sensing an opportunity to make inroads among conservative voters in the wake of both the animosity left over from the Democratic runoff and the Dixiecrat defection from the Democrats because of incumbent Democratic President Harry S. Truman's, pro-civil rights stand, Republicans attempted unsuccessfully to recruit former Congressman Martin Dies Jr. and Senator W. Lee O'Daniel, the incumbent whose term was scheduled to expire in January 1949, to accept their nomination.[24] Porter had already been named to head the Dewey-Warren presidential campaign in Texas, but when both Dies and O'Daniel declined, Porter agreed to make the Senate race.[24] Watson declined the nomination in September, and the state Republican committee then selected Porter as his replacement.[24]

Porter ran an aggressive campaign and attempted to make inroads to Democratic strength by appealing to conservative voters.[25] Stevenson endorsed Porter in the general election, and Porter espoused a platform that included advocacy of states' rights, the continuation of racial segregation, aggressive anti-communism, and a pro-business approach to tax and economic policy.[25][26] In addition, Porter argued that Johnson was corrupt and that the runoff election results were so tainted that if Johnson won the general election, the U.S. Senate might refuse to seat him, depriving Texas of half its representation.[27] Porter also argued that with Truman supposedly sure to lose to Republican Thomas E. Dewey, a Republican U.S. Senator could be more effective than a Democrat.[27]

General Election[edit]

Johnson defeated Porter, but by a narrower margin than Democrats in Texas usually obtained.[28] Johnson returned to Washington as a senator, permanently dubbed "Landslide Lyndon." Dismissive of his critics, Johnson happily adopted the nickname,[29][30] though he came to dislike it in later years.[31]

Texas Republicans experienced increased voter support in the years that followed.[32] Porter became a member of the Republican National Committee and provided crucial support to Dwight D. Eisenhower during Eisenhower's presidential candidacy in 1952, enabling him to obtain the Republican nomination over rival Robert A. Taft.[32] Eisenhower carried Texas in 1952 and again in 1956.[33] In 1960, Democrat John F. Kennedy only narrowly won Texas, despite the presence of Lyndon Johnson on the ticket as his vice presidential running mate.[34] Republican John Tower won the 1961 special election to replace Johnson in the Senate, a further indication that Porter's 1948 candidacy had put Texas Republicans on the road to viability.[35]


United States Senate election in Texas, 1948
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Lyndon Johnson 702,985 66.22%
Republican Jack Porter 349,665 32.94%
Prohibition Samuel N. Morris 8,913 0.84%
Majority 353,320 33.28%
Turnout 1,061,563
Democratic hold

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Bruce E. Altschuler (May 1991). "Lyndon Johnson: Campaign Innovator?". PS – Political Science & Politics: 44. a published May 16 Belden poll showing Stevenson ahead by an overwhelming 64-28%{...}a June 20 Belden poll showed that the gap had narrowed. Belden's 47-37% margin{...}Stevenson led Johnson in the first primary 40-34%, but the lack of a majority made a run-off necessary.{...}One, published a week before the final vote, showed that "the two candidates had leveled off, with Stevenson leading Johnson 48 percent to 41 percent,"{...}Another, published the day before the vote gave Stevenson a lead of 53-47%,
  2. ^ James R. Chiles (April 2016). "Campaign by Helicopter". Air & Space magazine. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  3. ^ a b Nate Hendley. The Big Con: Great Hoaxes, Frauds, Grifts, and Swindles in American History. p. 272,273.
  4. ^ Dallek 1991, pp. 318-319, 321.
  5. ^ Dallek 1991, p. 321.
  6. ^ Flowers, Steve (February 2, 2016). "How 'Landslide Johnson' stole a win in Texas". Montgomery Advertiser. Montgomery, AL.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Dale Baum and James L. Hailey (Autumn 1994). "Lyndon Johnson's Victory in the 1948 Texas Senate Race: A Reappraisal". Political Science Quarterly.
  8. ^ Dallek 1991, pp. 319, 321.
  9. ^ "LBJ: His Life and Times". Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Retrieved 11 August 2019. This family photo (right) was taken on Primary Election Day, August 28, 1948 during LBJ's Senate Campaign.
  10. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfhHskdSanI 29:20
  11. ^ Jason Matteson. "Texas Bandits: A Study of the 1948 Democratic Primary" (PDF). p. 7. Retrieved 11 August 2019. Early on Friday, September 3, election officials in a little southern Mexican American town, dominated by George Parr, announced that the returns they released earlier in the week were incorrect. Officials in Alice, said they found an additional 203 ballots in their "Box 13." Of these 203 ballots, 202 were for Johnson, leaving only one for Stevenson! Officials from another Parr-dominated county - Duval - also announced that they had some ballots that were not included in their tally from earlier in the week.
  12. ^ Ronnie Dugger, The Politician: The Life and Times of Lyndon Johnson (New York, 1982), 328.
  13. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfhHskdSanI 31:00
  14. ^ Dale Baum and James L. Hailey (Autumn 1994). "Lyndon Johnson's Victory in the 1948 Texas Senate Race: A Reappraisal". Political Science Quarterly. 109 (4): 595–613. doi:10.2307/2151840. JSTOR 2151840. Accounts by historians of LBJ's razor-thin victory have invariably converged on the Thirteenth Precinct in the South Texas town of Alice in Jim Wells County, where 202 Mexican-American voters, some of whom were deceased or had been absent from the county on election day, reportedly lined up in alphabetical order at the very last minute to cast their ballots overwhelmingly for Johnson.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  15. ^ Caro 1990, pp. 360–361
  16. ^ Woods 2006, p. 217; Caro 1990.
  17. ^ Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York City: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-04195-4.
  18. ^ a b "Ex‐Official Says He Stole 1948 Election for Johnson". New York Times. 31 July 1977. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  19. ^ a b c d Josiah Daniel. "Case Changed History and Defined "Lawyering"" (PDF). The Texas Lawbook. p. 2.
  20. ^ Pamela Colloff (November 1998). "Go Ask Alice". Texas Monthly. Retrieved 13 August 2019. Ever since, Alice residents have heard their fair share of stories. “For years afterward, the whole country down here was rife with rumor,” recalls eighty-year-old Homer Dean, a former Jim Wells county attorney who observed the first of several unsuccessful investigations into the Box 13 scandal.
  21. ^ Martin Tolchin (11 February 1990). "How Johnson Won Election He'd Lost". New York Times. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  22. ^ "President Gets Thurmond Dare Entering Texas". Valley Morning Star. Harlingen, TX. Associated Press. September 26, 1948. p. 1 – via Newspapers.com.
  23. ^ "H.J. Porter, Key Republican In Texas in 50's, Is Dead at 90". New York Times. 10 December 1986. p. B13.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h "GOP Senate Nominee is Named: H. J. Porter is to Make Race". Lubbock Evening Journal. Lubbock, TX. Associated Press. September 16, 1948. pp. II 1, 9 – via Newspapers.com.
  25. ^ a b "Oust Left-Wingers, Asks GOP Nominee". Abilene Reporter-News. Abilene, TX. Associated Press. September 19, 1948. p. 10 – via Newspapers.com.
  26. ^ "Porter Assails Johnson Record". Lubbock Morning Avalanche. Lubbock, TX. Associated Press. October 13, 1948. p. 1 – via Newspapers.com.
  27. ^ a b Higgins, Richard J. (October 21, 1948). "Newspaper Advertisement: Why Texas Should Send Jack Porter to the United States Senate". Freeport Facts. Freeport, TX. p. 5 – via Newspapers.com.
  28. ^ "Porter Scores Blind Devotion". Amarillo Globe. Amarillo, TX. United Press International. November 3, 1948. p. 20 – via Newspapers.com.
  29. ^ Dallek 1991, p. 346.
  30. ^ "The Mystery of Ballot Box 13". Washington Post. March 4, 1990.
  31. ^ Caro 1990, p. 399
  32. ^ a b "H. J. Porter, Key Republican in Texas in 50's, is dead at 90". The New York Times. New York, NY. December 10, 1986. p. B 13.
  33. ^ Jackson, John S. (2014). The American Political Party System. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-8157-2638-8 – via Google Books.
  34. ^ Glass, Andrew (November 8, 2018). "This Day in Politics: Kennedy narrowly defeats Nixon, Nov. 8, 1960". Politico.com. Washington, DC.
  35. ^ "Tower Terms May Victory Giant Stride". The Monitor. McAllen, TX. United Press International. June 11, 1961. p. 3 – via Newspapers.com.

Further reading[edit]

  • Baum, Dale, and James L. Hailey. "Lyndon Johnson's Victory in the 1948 Texas Senate Race: A Reappraisal." Political Science Quarterly 109.4 (1994): 595-613. Online
  • Caro, Robert A. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent (1990).
  • Dallek, Robert. Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960 (1994).
  • Daniel III, Josiah M. "LBJ v. Coke Stevenson: Lawyering for Control of the Disputed Texas Democratic Party Senatorial Primary Election of 1948." Review of Litigation 31 (2012): 1-70. Online
  • McGoldrick-Spradlin, Ginger. "The Crucible of Texas Politics: An Analysis of the United States Senatorial Primaries of 1941 and 1948". (Dissertation, East Tennessee State University, 2011.) Online
  • Strong, Donald S. (1950). Southern Primaries and Elections, 1920-1949. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press. OCLC 500982.

External links[edit]