Kinky Using Jesse’s Strategy

Kinky Friedman for Governor

This is a decent little article that details some of the similarities of differences between the Friedman and Ventura campaigns. Taken from the Austin American-Statesman:

To gauge Texas writer-singer Kinky Friedman’s starting-gun strategy running for governor as an independent, look north 1,000 miles and flash back to 1998 (just before the U.S. House approved articles of impeachment against President Clinton).

That is when retired wrestler Jesse Ventura hammerlocked two high-powered opponents to win election as the Reform Party candidate for governor of Minnesota.

“We’ve shocked the world,” Ventura told supporters as he carried 37 percent of the vote, compared with 34 percent for Norm Coleman, the Republican mayor of St. Paul, and 28 percent for Skip Humphrey, the state’s Democratic attorney general, whose father, Hubert Humphrey, was vice president to Lyndon Johnson.

Friedman’s campaign, leaning on two Ventura stalwarts, hopes to repeat Ventura’s venture next year by selling Friedman as a down-home alternative and driving up voter interest, particularly among young Texans and people who have not voted (or registered to vote) in years.

There’s a catch, though. Friedman faces three hurdles that Ventura did not. He has to collect thousands of voter signatures to make the November ballot, he can’t count on public dollars to supplement his kitty, and he has to live with the fact that Texas, unlike Minnesota, doesn’t allow voters to register at the polls on Election Day — a factor judged pivotal in Ventura’s upset victory.

“Differences between Texas and Minnesota are mammoth,” said Steven Schier, a political scientist at Minnesota’s Carleton College.

Friedman’s climb also might be steep because of what happened after Venture’s election: His term as governor wasn’t followed by a re-election bid, and voters didn’t elect the third-party candidate who followed him. The nation’s most recent unusual governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, has lost momentum as legislators, lobby groups and voters resist his proposals to reduce spending.

“Lightning probably won’t strike again,” Schier said. “Jesse’s undistinguished tenure as governor in Minnesota, coupled with Arnold’s troubles in California, make it unlikely that ‘celebrity’ candidates will ever have the inviting luster of novelty that they had a few years ago.”

Friedman’s campaign disagrees, believing that if Jesse did it, Kinky can: Ventura segued from show biz to the campaign trail, so Friedman can. Ventura ignited voters, so Friedman can. Ventura shined in debate, so Friedman will.

“Texans are much more upset with what’s going on than Minnesotans ever were,” Friedman spokeswoman Laura Stromberg said. “Minnesota was never 49th in children’s health insurance and first in executions.”

At least six candidates probably will vie for governor. Republican Gov. Rick Perry seeks re-election, and GOP Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced her candidacy in June. Former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Bob Gammage have entered the March 7 Democratic primary, and Fort Worth middle school administrator Felix Alvarado has said he intends to run.

A dream team

The Ventura veterans helping Friedman are Dean Barkley, campaign director for Ventura and Friedman, and Bill Hillsman, an advertising consultant for both who hatched “action figure” TV ads for Ventura and similar spots for Friedman. Hillsman and Barkley also helped conjure a Drive to Victory Tour, bringing Ventura by mobile home to targeted communities in the 72 hours before the election.

Ventura started with an advantage by automatically qualifying for his spot at the top of the ballot because the Reform Party’s U.S. Senate nominee, Barkley, won at least 5 percent of the vote in 1996. Texas law requires Friedman to raise more than 45,000 signatures from voters who sit out the party primaries — and signatures must be collected in 60 days or less this spring.

Ventura joined six candidate debates, while Friedman isn’t guaranteed any opportunity to pitch and woo alongside major-party nominees.

In the debates, Ventura emerged as a straight-talking alternative to the bickering Humphrey and Coleman.

Humphrey, the frontrunner most of that year, made what now seems like a tactical error by insisting that Ventura be included in the debates. His campaign calculated that if Ventura gained ground, he’d draw voters mainly from Coleman. Humphrey’s decision, said Gerry Drewry, Ventura’s campaign spokeswoman, “was a terrible error on his part, but it was wonderful for us.”

Political scientist Jacob Lentz has written that Ventura’s “inclusion in the debates cannot be overestimated.” Humphrey conceded recently that Ventura “peeled votes from both of us.”

Another Ventura edge: Minnesota’s provision of taxpayer funds to candidates brought his campaign more than $325,000. The public campaign aid, not available to Texas candidates, gave Ventura the ability to borrow funds for critical TV time.

Very different states

No doubt, Ventura was helped too by the Minneapolis-St. Paul TV market’s serving 80 percent of Minnesota. Texas has more than 25 media markets, making statewide media outreach expensive.

By Texas standards, overall campaign spending was slight in Minnesota. Eleven candidates for governor spent less than $11 million total in 1998, compared with the more than $100 million total spent by Perry and Democratic challenger Tony Sanchez in the 2002 Texas governor’s race. Ventura spent less than $1 million, with Humphrey and Coleman spending more than $2 million each.

Friedman hopes to raise $1 million before his campaign collects signatures this spring, Barkley said, and then another $6 million to $7 million to run his fall campaign — ambitious goals for any first-time candidate.

Lentz, author of “Electing Jesse Ventura, A Third-Party Success Story,” says Ventura’s capture of 69 percent of voters who registered on election day proved vital, adding that Ventura wouldn’t have edged Coleman without tapping into more than 330,000 first-time voters.

Friedman, in contrast, could be denied late momentum among people who haven’t voted in years because Texas law requires voters to register 30 days before any election.

Ventura set several goals from the outset of his campaign, meeting most, according to a campaign diary printed after the election in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

The goals included being favored by at least 24 percent of voters by October polls, matching the percentage of votes won in Minnesota by Ross Perot, the Reform Party founder, in the 1992 presidential election. The others were making the debates and doing well, raising $400,000 to $500,000 for TV ads and motivating young voters to vote.

Barkley and Hillsman, formerly of Ventura and now with Friedman, have been encouraged by a fall poll showing Friedman above 20 percent in various matchups tested by Zogby International. They are betting on Friedman’s idiosyncratic style (stumping without talking points, cigar in hand) and an anti-status-quo message — with pitches on criminal justice, children’s health care, education, renewable energy and political reform — to energize voters accustomed to dozing through (or dodging) political appeals.

“Kinky’s biggest opponent in this race is apathy,” Barkley said. “It’s apathy versus Friedman. If Friedman beats apathy, he’ll win.”

Like Ventura’s, Friedman’s action figure is being marketed online and via TV ads. His South Austin headquarters holds thousands of T-shirts, posters, caps, bumper stickers, compact discs and mugs, all for sale.

Doug Friedline, Ventura’s campaign manager, said his man couldn’t have won without the public campaign aid or participating in debates. He said Ventura also had a better shot than Friedman because there was no incumbent in the race.

“Right guy at the right time,” Friedline said. “It’s whether or not the voters of Texas are willing to look at the situation.”

2 Responses to “Kinky Using Jesse’s Strategy”

  1. IndiPol Says:

    Texas being a Red state in a big way and the 30 day registration period will be tough things to overcome. But it still could be an election to discuss for years to come. As for the debates Kinky meets the criteria for inclusion (as of last gov election), but I think there was only one gubernatorial debate last time around between the Rep and Dem. Kinky will have to blow his wad in one attempt.

    There is a lot that can happen. We’ll get him on the ballot first and then see what happens.

  2. undercover_ararchist Says:

    The citizens of Texas are majority Dem-leaning, but the plutocrats in power have seized the mechanisms of the state to ensure totalitarian rule.

    Hey, Mr. President: Can we go to war on Texas to bring its citizens democracy? Please?