KC Johnson

President Johnson and Texas congressman Jim Wright, 3 Feb. 1964, 9.02pm

The President thought he had a deal–Texas liberals wouldn’t launch a primary challenge to incumbent governor John Connally; in exchange, Johnson aide Walter Jenking strongarmed a conservative Democratic congressman from running against incumbent Ralph Yarborough in the Democratic Senate primary. Then, a few hours before the filing deadline, Texas labor officials double-crossed the President and accompanied liberal Don Yarborough (no relationship to the senator) as he filed papers for a primary challenge to Connally. So Johnson took to the phones, attempting to convince Congressman Jim Wright (who had run unsuccessfully for the Senate in a 1961 special election) to give up his seat and challenge Yarborough. Wright clearly was tempted–very tempted. Congressional history would have changed dramatically if he had succumbed to LBJ’s wooing.

President Johnson [There’s] a lot of things I can do for you. I can take care of you here if you lost. You wouldn’t be gambling anything. But . . .

[Break.]

Congressman Jim Wright: [laughing nervously] Here we are about, what? Four hours before the filing [deadline]—

President Johnson: Oh, less than that—two or three.

Wright: Yeah. Yeah. That’s right—two or three. Anything would have to be postmarked from here by midnight this time.

[Break.]

President Johnson:

President Johnson: See, you and [Congressman] Joe [Kilgore]: now he’d [Governor John Connally] rather Joe run, ‘cause Joe’s got some money.

Wright: Sure. Yeah.

President Johnson: And I’d rather you run ‘cause you’ve got some votes. That’s the way I feel about it.

I’d rather nobody run if Don Yarborough wouldn’t run [for governor]—from the national picture. I think it’s bad to get all the labor split up, and fighting, and so forth.

But I think you have got a chance to beat [Senator Ralph] Yarborough; I don’t think Joe has. That’s my judgment; now, I may be wrong.

Wright: Yeah.

President Johnson: I think if you get on that ticket with John, and let him keep his arm in a sling [recovering from being shot in the Kennedy assassination] and keep your tongue in your mouth, I think you could go places. And I always have thought so.

I just think you just quit shaking hands and dodgin’ and dartin’ around everyplace in the country, and stay on that television every time somebody gives you a dollar.

[Break.]

President Johnson: Now, how much are you willing to gamble? It all? You want to come back to the House, or do you want to shoot the works if you can, with John, and if you lose [in the Senate primary], get something else?

[Break.]

President Johnson: I’d damn sight rather have a six-year term in the Senate than where you are. If you lost—if you lost, I’d take care of you with something else, whatever you wanted.

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