Time Capsule: Sissy’s Rematch Fails to Catch Fire

Attorney and activist Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, whose last-minute candidacy for the Democratic vice-presidential nomination in 1972 helped galvanize women’s interest in politics, was overwhelmingly defeated by Gov. Dolph Briscoe in a second bid for her party’s gubernatorial nomination on this day in 1974.

Garnering more than 884,000 votes, the 46-year-old Farenthold’s understaffed and poorly-funded campaign had forced Briscoe, a wealthy former state legislator and rancher, into a runoff primary two years earlier.

“I view this as a rematch,” said Farenthold, a political reformer who built her reputation fighting for ethics legislation.  Running in the Watergate year of 1974 and in the wake of the Sharpstown bank scandal — a scandal that reached the highest echelons of the Texas state government — many observers believed that Farenthold could pull a major upset against Briscoe, a conservative Democrat with a knack for saying almost nothing when it came to the issues.

Farenthold, after all, had been a prominent member of the so-called “Dirty Thirty,” a coalition of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats in the state legislature who had rallied against the powerful Speaker of the House while keeping the Sharpstown scandal alive as a political issue.

Following her unexpectedly strong showing in the 1972 gubernatorial primary, Farenthold was nominated for vice president by a multiracial coalition led by the recently-organized National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC) at the Democratic national convention in Miami Beach later that summer.

Agreeing to run after Brooklyn’s Shirley A. Chisholm withdrew her name from consideration, Farenthold garnered an eye-opening 404 votes against Missouri’s Tom Eagleton, George McGovern’s original running mate, in the vice-presidential balloting — some 179 votes ahead of Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, who also actively campaigned to become McGovern’s co-star.

The quick-witted Farenthold, who once referred to Gov. Briscoe as “a bowl of pudding,” based her 1974 campaign on the incumbent Democrat’s notorious pay-to-play approach to politics.  She called it “government by campaign contribution.”

Despite waging a spirited campaign, Farenthold fell far short in the May 4 primary, losing her rematch to the heavily-financed Briscoe by a lopsided margin of 1,025,632 to 437,287.

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