Thanks to Lyndon Johnson, Texas law allows Lloyd Bentsen to run for re-election as a Senator at the same time he's running for vice president. This leeway was written into the state's election code in 1959 for then-Senator Johnson, who had his eye on the 1960 Presidential nomination. While it smacks of opportunism, it actually makes good sense. But it also raises a disturbing new question.
Texas has every right to set such rules; they are a matter of state, not Federal jurisdiction. If Texans want to go through, and pay for, a second senatorial election, as they did after Johnson was elected Vice President, that's their business.But on the larger point of whether one man should be allowed to seek two offices, the Texas law has merit. It gives the national parties a greater range of choice: if a senator who is up for re-election must abandon his established career to make a risky run for higher office, he may opt for the safer course and stay put. But why should a senator whose term expires this year have to quit his Senate career to run for the higher office while a senator whose term isn't expiring wouldn't have to? It seems only fair to the man and to the parties that their options be as wide as Texas law permits.
But Mr. Bentsen's twin candidacies raise a question that didn't exist in 1959, when there was no federal campaign finance law. That law now limits spending on presidential campaigns - but not on those for other offices. Senator Bentsen already has a multimillion-dollar war chest. It will be hard to distinguish expenditures to promote his Senate candidacy from those promoting the Democratic ticket in Texas. The Federal Election Commission hasn't confronted this delicate question before; it will have to now.