Wow, did Rick Perry suck the air out of the race to replace Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison or what? If you don't follow the #txsen Twitter hashtag, you might not even know there is a race to replace her! Which, I suppose, is a very good thing for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. So, by golly Big Jolly, what is going on?
For starters, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst is still the big dog and will remain so even after a sluggish start. In case you missed it, it was a very, very bad start. But Dewhurst recognized it and in mid-October changed his staff around and brought in Buddy Barfield as campaign manager, Kevin Moomaw as the grassroots organzier, and veteran Dave Beckwith to handle messaging. It has worked like a charm – his campaign has really moved forward in the last three weeks and he is looking as formidable as we thought he would be. If he hadn't made those changes, this race would have moved from a certainty to a tossup. As it stands now, the challengers have been pushed back into a fight to keep him from reaching that magic 50+1 number he needs to avoid a runoff. Campaign staff really do make a difference.
As for Ted Cruz, once again we find that campaign staff can make a huge difference in a race. His campaign manager, John Drogin, and social media/messaging guy, Vincent Harris, were simply brilliant in overcoming Ted's worst misstep of the campaign, his infamous "pit of snakes" reference to the Council on Foreign Relations. That could have blown up in Ted's face but Drogin and Harris came up with a twist on the Herman Cain / Newt Gingrich Lincoln Douglas debates, challenging Lt. Gov. Dewhurst to come out of hiding and face Ted one on one. That challenge quckly overshadowed Ted's faux pas and allowed the issue to die. Clearly, Dewhurst made a mistake in letting Harris get away and you cannot deny that Drogin is one of the upcoming stars of the party. It will be interesting to see if Drogin/Harris team up in the future.
In the Tom Leppert camp, he continues to push his message. And, if you take pollster Mike Baselice seriously, as you should, Mr. Leppert's strategy of getting into a runoff with Lt. Gov. Dewhurst is looking more and more viable. And in a runoff, anything can happen. Mr. Leppert can compete head to head with Lt. Gov. Dewhurst financially, as demonstrated by the latest campaign finance reports. Add to that Mr. Leppert's campaign videos, produced by Scott Howell and Co.: they remain the standard in this race. None of the other guys have come close to these videos, which goes to show just how good Howell is at this part of the game. Imagine if you had to put Mr. Leppert up on the air – he refuses to engage in soundbites, so what do you do?. Heck, it is tough just trying to write about him because he avoids the traditional soundbite method of getting his message out. I said from the first time that I met him that it would be a three way race and I think that by now everyone following the race would agree with me.
Elizabeth Ames Jones finally saw the writing on the wall and gave up the chase. Which is good for her in terms of not ruining her political future and good for Texas conservatives in that she has decided to take on State Sen. Jeff Wentworth – not exactly the banner carrier for Texas style conservatisim. She would make a fine replacement for Sen. Wentworth and would definitely move the state senate to the right.
Among the "lesser known" candidates, Glenn Addison continues to make noise. If he had access to the the kind of money that the top three do, I think that he would be the "Tea Party" candidate, edging out Mr. Cruz. As it stands now, he is the only candidate to beat Ted Cruz in any of the straw polls that have been held after one ot the many forums held to date. Billing himself as the "Common Man", he strikes a chord with many of those who thought the Tea Party was about replacing insiders with outsiders. Plus, he gives us an interesting look at the current state of the Tea Party in Texas – just today I saw one of the "leaders" of the Tea Party movenment in Texas attack him becaue he dared to attack Mr. Cruz. It is a strange world when so-called "grassroots" leaders attack a true grassroots candidate because he hasn't been around long enough (read: not part of the establishment). Weird.
I'll have more on the individual campaigns over the next week or so. Cruz, Leppert, and Addison have all accepted my request to interview them. I'm hopeful that Lt. Gov. Dewhurst does as well. If he doesn't, no one can say that I didn't try – I've sent emails to his official campaign media rep, to one of the higher ups in his campaign, and even had a friend that knows his wife ask for help. No one can say that I didnt' try! Heck, if Lela Pittenger or Cas Castanuela happen to be in the Houston area within the next week or so, I'll be happy to sit down with them and update you on the status of their campaigns. Because in my mind, this race is almost as important as picking the next President.