January 04, 2006
Strayhorn's impact

The Statesman has a good piece on how the Strayhorn independency may affect the gubernatorial race.

Although many analysts still see Perry as the favorite to win re-election, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn's decision to challenge him as an independent instead of as a Republican changes what Perry must do to get there. Also having to revisit their playbooks are the field of Democrats seeking the gubernatorial nomination and writer/musician Kinky Friedman, who also hopes to make an independent bid.

"You'd have to say as of today (Perry) is still the favorite but a new dynamic was introduced," said Bruce Buchanan, who teaches government at the University of Texas. "The new dynamic is that Perry will have an opponent with relatively deep pockets and a relatively high profile for eight more months than he would have if Strayhorn had stayed in the Republican primary."

A candidate does not need a majority of the vote for victory.


"What somebody like Strayhorn has to do is capture all the independent vote, which is not much more than 15 or 20 percent, and then detach a significant number of Republicans and Democrats in order to get to a margin as great as the margin that Perry would get," Buchanan said.

Mike Baselice, a pollster who works for Perry, said the 2002 statewide elections indicate that about 50 percent of Texans are Republicans and 35 percent are Democrats.

"Give Strayhorn all the independent votes and give her 5 percent more from Republicans and Democrats, and she's up to 25 percent," Baselice said. "That's like the worst-case scenario for the Republican and Democrat and the best case for her. And what about Kinky Friedman getting some of the independent vote?"

Baselice may be correct in his breakdown of Rep/Dem/Ind percentanges, but I think his estimate that only ten percent of GOPers (thus five percent of all voters) is in play is too low. The latest SurveyUSA tracking poll for Perry shows him with a 62% approval rate among Republicans, with 28% disapproval and 10% "don't know". Certainly some Republicans were prepared to vote for Strayhorn in the GOP primary - polls had her with about 25% of that vote. Who's to say she couldn't still get that or more in the general election? According to today's Chron, she still has her backers in her forsaken party.

In San Antonio, Strayhorn was joined by former Bexar County Republican Chairman Roy Barrera Jr., who was the GOP nominee for attorney general in 1986. Barrera said he is supporting Strayhorn over Perry because she is a friend and because Perry has failed the test of leadership as governor.

"I'm one Republican who does not want four more years of what we've had," Barrera said. "Texas is ready for a change."

Dallas County Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield, a Republican, joined Strayhorn at her Dallas event. Mayfield said Perry has failed the citizens of Texas on transportation and education issues.

Mayfield said a long campaign to the general election will allow Strayhorn to draw Perry into a real debate on issues rather than a contest of "just trying to out-Republican somebody."

I can't see too many Republican officials lining up with Strayhorn (though perhaps a few of the Hochberg 14 may join in if they decide to be bitter about the attempt to primary them out), but in a sense that just fuels her narrative about the GOP establishment caring more about loyalty than results. Maybe PDiddie's optimistic (to me) bean-counting is more likely than I think. The main reason why I'm still more pessimistic than he is this:

Two major Strayhorn donors — trial lawyers Walter Umphrey of Beaumont and John Eddie Williams of Houston — applauded Strayhorn's decision to run as an independent.


They each contributed $100,000 to Strayhorn in June, and Williams said he gave another $100,000 last month. Each said he plans to give Strayhorn more. Texas law doesn't limit individual contributions to a candidate except for some restrictions in judicial races.


Plaintiffs' lawyers traditionally have been major contributors to Democratic candidates. Umphrey was a key financial backer of Democrat Ann Richards' successful gubernatorial race in 1990.

But they have been giving money to selected Republican candidates in recent years because of the Democrats' inability to win statewide races. No Democrat has won a statewide office in Texas since 1994.

Another Strayhorn contributor, Tommy Whaley of Marshall, a former member of the State Republican Executive Committee, said he will continue to support her candidacy.

Austin criminal defense lawyer Roy Minton, a Democrat, said he also will continue to support Strayhorn. His law firm gave her $10,000 last year and $11,000 the year before.

"I've known Carole since I don't know how long. She's an old family friend. I've represented her through a divorce or two," he said.

Umphrey predicted Strayhorn's campaign will be adequately funded.

"She has quite a lot of money now she doesn't have to spend on a primary and can save for the general election," he said.

As I've said before, if the plaintiffs' attorneys line up behind Strayhorn, I don't know how either Bell or Gammage gets enough money to get a message out. Grassroots donors are great, but these guys will need millions and I don't see that happening without deep pockets kicking in.

Back to the Statesman piece:

With Strayhorn and Friedman trying to play down partisan leanings, the election could hinge on whether Perry or the Democratic nominee can turn out more of their loyal party voters. Perry has a larger base to work with, but Democrats hope that advantage will be diminished because Strayhorn still calls herself a Republican.

Democratic consultant Ed Martin said Strayhorn could attract voters who have supported Republicans since President Bush was governor but do not have the same loyalty to Perry.

"In the long term, this schism in the Republican Party will benefit a rebuilding Democratic Party," Martin said. "In the short run, Strayhorn's candidacy could accelerate that trend in this governor's race. She's not pulling our loyal Democratic voters off of us."

She may not be - and for what it's worth, I think she ultimately won't draw too many Democrats - but Friedman has had an effect. I hope this Kos diarist is correct when he says:

Dems who would have voted for Kinky in a field of three, might vote for a Dem in a field of four under the premise of "hey, we could win this thing." (This provides a direct answer to Kinky's campaign slogan "Kinky, Why the Hell Not?").

I'll wait till I see some poll numbers before I judge what effect there may be.

Richard Murray, who teaches political science at the University of Houston, said he expects Strayhorn, Friedman and Bell (whom he expects to be the Democratic nominee) to all focus their attacks on Perry.

"Perry probably ignores Kinky Friedman but will have to make some decisions based on how the campaign is playing out as to whether the greater threat is Strayhorn or Chris Bell," he said.

The more I think about it, the more I think Bell or Gammage will have to go after Friedman, though not necessarily in a direct way. One way in which the dynamic of this race may change is that if Strayhorn does put a dent in Perry's Republican support, especially if it's to the point where he starts pulling re-elect numbers in the 30s instead of the 40s, B/G (I'm tired of typing "Bell or Gammage") should consider running a more straight-on progressive campaign instead of a centrist one on the grounds that this is their best bet to reclaim those Kerry-and-Kinky voters and thus actually consolidate the Democratic base. For example, they could point out that while Friedman's "I only favor executing guilty people" stance on the death penalty is great, it's also a statement that Rick Perry would agree with; what's more, Perry would say that only guilty people have ever been executed in Texas. B/G could then say that the way to ensure that only guilty people get executed is with some actual policy proposals, like a statewide public defender system, or a state Board of Paroles and Pardons that meets in person and isn't a rubber stamp. Challenge Friedman on issues like this with promises to take specific actions rather than mere quips and see if they can bring some wayward Dems home. There's a risk that they could alienate some of the conservative Democratic base, but those people are the most likely to be tempted by Strayhorn regardless. If 35% is enough to win, keeping the progressives away from Kinky may be the key to getting there.

What I've just suggested may of course be a stupid strategy for B/G to pursue. It appeals to me, sure, but Bell or Gammage will have to decide for themselves what the path to vote maximization is. The point is that with four candidates in the race, each one of them will have to recognize that some particular group which may have been theirs in a less-crowded field may now choose to go elsewhere because they have a choice. Whoever guesses right about which groups to go after and which ones to concede will be in the best position to win.

PerryVsWorld has his own take on the Strayhorn Effect. One quibble I do have is this:

Who is the Democrats' base? It's white liberals and African-Americans. Now, is the Democrats base solid? Quite possibly not. Like Kuffner, I see significant numbers of cars with Kinky Friedman and KerryEdwards bumper stickers. These aren't African-Americans. I always check the ethnicity of the driver, and it is invariably white, and it is invariably an expensive car.

Hispanics are still a big part of the Democratic base. George Bush won over 40% of that vote in 2004, but Rick Perry only claimed to have won a one-third share in 2002, and that number was disputed by some as being too high. I don't know how things will wind up this year, but I feel confident when I say that a majority of Hispanic voters will go Democratic. And as The Jeffersonian has noted, they're not driving around with Kinky stickers, either.

If you're not analysis'ed out yet, Karl-T points to another thought piece by consultant Dean Rindy on behalf of the Bob Gammage campaign. It was done to advocate for Gammage, but I think you could substitute "Chris Bell" in therer as appropriate and reach the same conclusions. In any event, it raises a lot of similar points and sheds light on the December polling that led to all this.

Her poll confirms the theory that Friedman will fade away into single digits with Strayhorn in the race as an independent. She simply sucks the air out of Kinky’s message, hogs the media spotlight, steps on his story line, and makes it very difficult for him to attract significant numbers of Perot type conservatives. Kinky will have to go after Democrats, and a strong Democratic candidate will make that very difficult. On the issues Kinky is a bland centrist who doesn’t offer much to a progressive constituency.

Which is why I think that both Democrats need to pay attention to Kinky's current level of appeal to progressive voters, and in particular need to pound on the fact that Friedman pays lip service to progressive ideas but offers nothing of substance for them. While I agree that a strong Democratic candidate will make it hard for Friedman to attract and retain these voters, the fact is that thanks to his celebrity persona and catchy slogans, he's already made headway on them, and it's not so easy to change someone's mind once it's set. If this isn't addressed soon, it may not be possible to address later.

OK, enough for now. If you think I sound too pessimistic, I'm not trying to be. I have always thought that the Governorship was winnable for the Democrats, and I certainly still think that today. A lot of things have to go right for that to happen, though, and just because the dynamic of the race has changed doesn't automatically mean that it has changed in the Democrats' favor. This may be a honeymoon period for Strayhorn, who's long been a media darling but who's been down on her luck lately due in part to circumstances beyond her control and in part to her own handling of her change in status, but I'm starting to think that my previous skepticism of her potential as an independent was overdone. Have I mentioned that I can't wait to see some polling in this race? Yes, I believe I have.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 04, 2006 to Election 2006 | TrackBack

What I haven't really seen anyone discuss is the signature requirement for getting on the ballot as an independent. Seems like I recall she's going to need to collect something like 45 thousand signatures by people who haven't voted in either the rep or dem primaries. That's a lot of signatures from politically apathetic people in a short time. I can see Kinky doing it because he has the appeal of an ecclectic outsider who will inspire folks who nver vote. But Strayhorn seems more likely to have a constituency of PTA parent types who probably vote on a regular basis and therefore can't sign her signature petition.

I would think she might have a very real chance of not even getting on the ballot as an independent. Nader had a really difficult time in many states and he had a much bigger cult following of fanatics than Strayhorn ever will.

Anyone with more expertise on this care to comment?

Posted by: Kent on January 4, 2006 9:02 PM

"Texas law doesn't limit individual contributions to a candidate except for some restrictions in judicial races."

Just curious: who holds the record for "largest contributor to a specific candidate"?

Posted by: RBH on January 4, 2006 9:24 PM

Enlightening piece, Kuff. I've said before that this whole thing is like a pot of soup that we'll have to let cook awhile before we get a real taste.

My inclination is that Carole Four Names' entry into the independent ranks benefits the Democrat, particularly if we are able to maintain our base.

I really believe her candidacy helps Democrats in Dallas, where I see Strayhorn drawing potentially significant Republican votes--not only because Perry is not generally loved by R's up here, but because he took an active role in knifing Kay Bailey Hutchison when she toyed with the gubernatorial race. Will she have this same effect elsewhere? Don't know.

Posted by: Ken Molberg on January 5, 2006 9:31 AM

I agree with you that B/G need to hone a progressive message to clearly define who the Democrats are and what they have to offer Texas. All of the focus this week has been on Strayhorn. But, I'm really interested in seeing how the contested Dem primary turns out. This contested primary is a very good thing as we will have two candidates traveling the state, talking to people and editorial boards, and putting out ads, signs, press releases, and other campaign materials. Right now, I have only the loosest sense of whether B or G has the advantage in the race. Both have a lot of work to do in building their name identification and base of supporters.

What of Kinky? Let's see whether he gets on the ballot. If Kinky is still in the race in May, we can deal with him then.

Strayhorn has the funding, name identification, and organization to get the signatures. So, she'll likely make the ballot.

Should be a fun year.

Posted by: Jeb on January 5, 2006 10:35 AM

Interesting. In a Perry/Strayhorn/Bell 3-way, I think Bell could eke out a win:

Perry 33% (GOP base)
Strayhorn 32% (15% indies + 17% GoOPers mad at Perry)
Bell 35% (Dem base)

But throw Kinky into the mix, and Bell's going to have a hard time losing fewer than 2% of voters. And in a Perry/Friedman/Bell 3-way, I think Perry wins easily. (A 2-way could be close, but Bell would have to win over virtually all the indies without alienating his base.)

I have no idea whether Strayhorn or Friedman will have an easier time getting their signatures.

So what's a Democrat to do? Deliberately eschew the primary and sign Strayhorn's petition but not Kinky's? It may depend on which other races are on the primary in your precinct.

Posted by: Mathwiz on January 6, 2006 2:49 PM