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Ex-Congressman Tapped to Fill Bentsen Seat

BOB KRUEGER has to hope that history will not repeat itself.

The last time a Texas Democrat moved mid-term from the United States Senate to a higher office, a Republican won the vacant seat. That was in 1961, when Lyndon Johnson's ascension to the vice presidency prompted a special election in which John Tower prevailed over 70 candidates.

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Now Lloyd Bentsen (D) is moving to the Treasury Department from the Senate, where two years remain on his term. On Tuesday, Gov. Ann Richards (D) appointed Mr. Krueger, a Texas railroad commissioner and former congressman, to fill the seat starting in February. Krueger must defend his seat in a special election May 1. Special election opponents

Already, two GOP congressmen - Reps. Joe Barton and Jack Fields - have joined the race. And Jim Mattox, a formidable Democrat, is weighing a run.

"I'm ready for a tough, hard, aggressive campaign," Krueger said. He promised to represent Texas in the Senate and to canvass the state during the campaign.

Former US Rep. Barbara Jordan (D) called Krueger an "outstanding choice" and "easy sell" to voters.

"Bob Krueger's character is unassailable," Governor Richards said. Her reputation was hurt last fall by the revelation that Lena Guerrero, who was appointed to fill the remainder of a term on the Railroad Commission, had lied about graduating from college and belonging to an honor society. Ms. Guerrero resigned, but continued to run for election to her old job. She lost the race to GOP Barry Williamson.

Whoever wins the upcoming special election will top the ballot in 1994, when Richards runs again. That is one more reason that she wants a Democratic senator. Voting a straight party ticket in Texas is not as common as it used to be, but it can still be a significant factor in an election, says Max Sherman, dean of the University of Texas's Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

Krueger obtained degrees from Southern Methodist University (SMU), Duke University, and Oxford University. He taught English literature at Duke for 12 years and wrote a book about 17th-century poet Sir John Davies. He won the congressional seat in 1975 and was voted the "most effective" of the 92 new members. Krueger served two terms, then tried to unseat four-term Senator Tower but lost narrowly. President Carter then appointed him ambassador at large and coordinator for Mexican affairs. In 1984, Kruege r ran again for the Senate, but lost in a three-way primary. In 1990, he was elected to the Railroad Commission.

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Ken Pye, SMU president and a Krueger friend, says Krueger "combines about everything anybody would want in a first-class public servant." Krueger's record questioned

Political opponents, however, are happy to attack Krueger. Mr. Barton knocks Krueger's "liberal Democrat record." Mr. Mattox, a former state attorney general, says Krueger is not from his own "progressive [party] wing." He noted Krueger's staunch support of the oil industry and said he had voted in Congress against provisions for both job safety and handicapped people. Mattox lost a gubernatorial primary battle to Richards in 1980.

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