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Why White won

John Williams has a good analysis of Bill White’s mayoral victory, which he attributes to good planning, hard work, and of course, money. Williams correctly notes that the latter is an ingredient to success but by no means a guarantee:

But the political graveyards are filled with wealthy candidates who squandered millions in losing causes. Look no further than Democrat Tony Sanchez and the more than $60 million he gave to his defeat in last year’s gubernatorial race.

Don’t forget Tom Reiser, Phil Sudan and Peter Wareing — former congressional candidates who spent millions on a total of five losing races in recent years.

Rob Booth made the same observation with some different examples last week. I certainly agree with the analysis, but I don’t think it goes far enough to answer the question “Why do some guys with tons of money win office while others become the butt of jokes?” Williams gets part of it – White had a great plan which he executed nearly flawlessly, and he worked hard to get people’s votes, but there’s one fact that can’t be overlooked: White was running under very favorable conditions for someone like him.

Think about it. No incumbent, relatively weak opposition (though admittedly no one thought so in January), and a compatible political climate. Compare this to the Tony Sanchez campaign, where Sanchez was taking on a Republican incumbent in a Republican landscape. Rick Perry wasn’t hugely popular, but he wasn’t burdened with a lot of baggage, either. Same sort of thing for Tom Reiser in his attempts to oust Ken Bentsen, while Sudan was running in the same turf against a fairly well-known opponent and experienced politician in Chris Bell. Only Wareing was running for an open seat in friendly territory, but he still had a strong and experienced opponent in John Culberson.

Where White used his money to best effect, I think, was not just in getting his name out to people, but also communicating a clear and compelling reason for why he wanted to be mayor (another big failing of the Tony Sanchez campaign, by the way). When you saw a White ad, you heard him talk about transportation and city services and how he planned to make them better. Agree or disagree, you knew where he stood and what was important to him. I never got that feel from Turner or Sanchez, though I admit that’s partly because White’s message was loud enough to drown everyone else out. Oddly, I felt Michael Berry, the other candidate who jumped in early before dropping out, had the same kind of vision and mission. If he’d started with Sanchez’s level of funding, he could have been dangerous.

Looking forward, White ought to have a reasonably favorable Council to work with. That’s great and bodes very well, but it also means that there will be high expectations from the start. You get 62% of the vote and this kind of let’s-be-friends talk from the Council, you better get stuff done. Greg has some before-and-after thoughts here and here.

Finally, there’s this item from George Strong, in which he notes a last-second attempt by the GOP to smear White by insinuating he’s got his eyes on a statewide office. As Greg noted above, that wouldn’t be a surprise, but my reaction to the charge is “So what?” If White is looking towards Austin, he’d be running in 2006 at the earliest, which would be after he’d completed a full term as mayor. Given the quick turnaround between the November election and the December primary filing season, he’d either have to decline to run for reelection or announce his candidacy for something else almost immediately after winning a second term. Both of these seem extremely unlikely to me. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on White serving three terms in City Hall, then making a statewide run in 2010, when he’ll still be only 56. How he might do then will depend in great part on how he does now.

UPDATE: The Chron and Editorial Board member James Campbell offer their congratulations and advice to Bill White.

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  1. Steve Bates says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Bentsen face Sudan, and Bell face Reiser? That of course doesn’t change the validity of your observations.

    I concur that White will find City Hall a friendly place, and absent some disaster (please, may disasters be absent!), will run for mayor again rather than seeking a state office. But after this election, I don’t have a lot of confidence in my ability to predict who will run for what office.

  2. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Bentsen face Sudan, and Bell face Reiser?

    You may be right. I didn’t check first, so my bad if I remembered incorrectly. Thanks!