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A Clandestine Trip and a Four-Decade Secret: An Untold Story Behind Jimmy Carter’s Defeat

With Mr. Connally’s help, Mr. Barnes became House speaker at 26 and was later elected lieutenant governor, a powerful position in Texas, only to fall short in his own bid for governor in 1972. He urged Mr. Connally to run for president in 1980 even though by then they were in different parties.

After Mr. Connally’s campaign collapsed, he and Mr. Barnes went into business together, forming Barnes/Connally Investments. The two built apartment complexes, shopping centers and office buildings, and bought a commuter airline and an oil company, and later a barbecue house, a Western art magazine, a title company and an advertising company. But they overextended themselves, took on too much debt and, after falling oil prices shattered the Texas real estate market, filed for bankruptcy in 1987.

The two stayed on good terms. “In spite of the disillusionment of our business arrangements, Ben Barnes and I remain friends, although I doubt that either of us would go back into business with the other,” Mr. Connally wrote in his memoir, In History’s Shadow,” shortly before dying in 1993 at age 76. Mr. Barnes, for his part, said this past week that “I remain a great fan of him.”

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Mr. Barnes said he had no idea of the purpose of the Middle East trip when Mr. Connally invited him. They traveled to the region on a Gulfstream jet owned by Superior Oil. Only when they sat down with the first Arab leader did Mr. Barnes learn what Mr. Connally was up to, he said.

Mr. Connally said, “‘Look, Ronald Reagan’s going to be elected president and you need to get the word to Iran that they’re going to make a better deal with Reagan than they are Carter,’” Mr. Barnes recalled. “He said, ‘It would be very smart for you to pass the word to the Iranians to wait until after this general election is over.’ And boy, I tell you, I’m sitting there and I heard it and so now it dawns on me, I realize why we’re there.”

Mr. Barnes said that, except for Israel, Mr. Connally repeated the same message at every stop in the region to leaders such as President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt. He thought his friend’s motive was clear. “It became very clear to me that Connally was running for secretary of state or secretary of defense,” Mr. Barnes said. (Mr. Connally was later offered energy secretary but declined.)

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