Historic Quote: “Id rather run the Pentagon from up here.” Longtime House Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Vinson (D-Georgia) on the possibility of becoming Defense Secretary.”
By the time he retired from the House last year, Ron Paul had as safe a seat as one could ask for in Congress. But it wasn’t like that in the beginning of his career. In fact, Paul wasn’t supposed to make it to Congress at all. And once there, his electoral stability was precarious. He’d have three separate stints and undergo four challenging matches with Democrat Bob Gammage. was expected to. But the nation got exposure to Paul’s supporters early.
The suburban Houston seat (Harris, Fort Bend, Brazoria) opened in early 1976, when 20 year incumbent Bob Casey resigned to take a seat on the Federal Maritime Commission. Gammage, had served in both Houses of the Texas Legislature and was part of the liberal oriented Dirty Thirty” (the name came to be when a lobbyist asked, “who are are those dirty 30 bastards”). He was ultimately expected to prevail, after a runoff in which all candidates appear on the ballot.
As expected, no one hit 50%. Gammage was first, with 42%, and Paul right behind with 40%. The outcome of the April runoff was a genuine surprise. Turnout was light, but Paul’s 8,000 vote margin added up to 56%.
In November, the two would face off again. PACs spent $300,000 on Paul’s behalf, which helped him dwarf Gammage’s dough by half. Labor went to the mat for Gammage, who was being portrayed by Paul forces as a liberal. That was expected to be enough to enable Paul prevail but on Election Night, found himself 94 votes behind, at the time the closest race in the nation. Ultimately, the margin grew to 236 votes, and the Mikva-Young race in Illinois, decided by 201 vote, surpassed it in closeness. This was a swing district all around. The Ford/Carter margin was double that of Gammage/Paul, but was still virtually tied at about 600 votes.
In office, Gammage, to the consternation of many of his supporters, took a moderate voting record. He opposed lobbyist disclosure, a bill promoting a national energy act, and an override of President Carter’s veto of a massive energy project bill. His Presidential support score in 1978 was 31%, as opposed to 50% disapproval. But his need to display his independence hurt him with women and minorities. And electorally, that would kill him.
For 1978, Paul was back, hoping that a lighter turnout would aid him. This time, it was Gammage who was on top spending wise and by Election Day, he seemed to have the edge. The race would produce another nip’n'tuck battle, but not a cliffhanger. Paul won back his seat by exactly 1,200 votes, 51-49%. It’s not that the liberals Gammage had alienated backed Paul. But a likely conclusion is they just simply stayed home.
Meanwhile, at the Congressional level at least, Paul would thrive. His reputation was known early on. The Almanac of American Politics 1982 called Paul (“one of the most original (to his admirers) and one of the most oddball (to detractors) members of the House.” In 1980, he would face a stiff challenge from Mike Andrews, and hold just 51-48% (Andrews would win a neighboring district two years later). But redistricting would help him in 1982 and he’d win easily.
After that, Paul gave up his seat to seek the Republican nomination to succeed John Tower in the Senate and lose. He’d be out of office for 12 years before challenging incumbent Greg Laughlin, who had switched to the Republican party in 1995. He unseated Laughlin in the runoff and edged “Lefty” Morris in the general, 51-48% (in the interim, he had won the Libertarian presidential nomination).
Gammage would become a Superior Court Judge and serve on the Texas Supreme Court. In 2006, he sought the Democratic nomination for Governor but, having lacked exposure for nearly three decades, finished a distant second to Chris Bell.
As for Paul, Gammage would keep a sense of humors. “He was always pretty consistent. I used to say it doesn’t make any difference what the issue is, someway or another, Ron will always get it back to the Gold Standard.” He would recall that “a lot of people didn’t take him seriously. He snuck up on them.” And he remembered turning on the television during the heat of the campaign. “The next thing I heard,” he said, “was this sweet girl’s little voice saying, ‘I hope my daddy and mommy don’t vote for Bob Gammage, ’cause he wants to turn the rapists and murders loose to attack us in our beds. I hope my mommy and daddy vote for Ron Paul. He wants to put them in jail where they belong,’”
Gammage died in 2012. He was 74.