Not straying, campaigning

The headline for this article is more than a bit misleading.

Texas Democrats put on a show of party unity at their state convention last month, but at least two of their statewide nominees have been cozying up to independent gubernatorial candidates Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman.

Democratic comptroller candidate Fred Head and agriculture commissioner nominee Hank Gilbert each show up on Strayhorn’s campaign reports as a $25 donor.

“I don’t believe I gave $25 to her. I bought a ticket to an event she attended,” Head said, admitting last month’s event was a Longview fundraiser for Strayhorn.

Head said he and Gilbert went to the event to meet Strayhorn supporters and ask them for their vote.

“I’m a Democrat, and I’m supporting the Democratic ticket,” Head said.

Head also said that he has been good friends with Strayhorn and said they share issues, such as opposition to the Trans-Texas Corridor toll road project.

Head said he and Gilbert also attended a free Friedman event in Tyler last month, trying to woo supporters there.

Gilbert said he and Head went to the event because the people there would be opposed to the re-election of Republican Gov. Rick Perry. He said that means they also likely would oppose their GOP foes.

“This is not anything against (Democratic nominee) Chris Bell. This is just a chance to get our message out,” Gilbert said.

In case there’s any lingering doubt that the headline about “straying” (weak attempt at a pun, maybe?) is off target, Phillip asked Hank Gilbert for a clarification.

I talked to Gilbert about the event, and he reassured me that they attended to try and attract split-ticket votes.

“Neither party’s base gets you 50%,” Gilbert said in our interview. “I’ve traveled with Chris, I’ve campaigned with him, and he knows I’m voting straight Democratic. But he also knows I made excellent contacts at that event, from a lot of folks that absolutely won’t support [Gilbert’s Republican opponent Todd] Staples. I talked to folks that were concerned about serious agricultural issues in the state of Texas, and they liked what I had to say.”

I’ll add that Gilbert believed the Chronicle ran a fair article, and was more displeased that Strayhorn’s campaign felt the need to leak what is essentially a non-issue just to try and cause problems for Bell. “Chris and I have talked, and he knows I’m behind him, and we’re going to continue working together to defeat the slate of corrupt politicians that are ruining this state,” Gilbert said.

So there you go. It seems to me that the question about whether or not Republicans who are supporting Strayhorn or Kinky might also be open to voting for a downballot Democrat like Hank Gilbert or Fred Head, and how successful Gilbert and Head have been at closing the deal with them, would make for a pretty good story. Maybe we’ll get lucky and someone will try to write it.

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