This Week in Campaign Fail

Perry's funds, Staples' Interwebs and Patterson's plane

Bill White: Perry's hair looks a lot fuller than his schedule. Hell, Bill's hair looks fuller than Perry's schedule.
Bill White: Perry's hair looks a lot fuller than his schedule. Hell, Bill's hair looks fuller than Perry's schedule. (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

Campaigning is like unarmed combat: Half the battle is mental. After the weird scramble in the Republican statewide primaries, Democratic strategists are admitting that they probably shouldn't have treated the GOP like an unstoppable campaigning machine. So instead of Chris Bell-style love taps, the Dems are aiming for heavy body blows.

After last week's massive misfire by Gov. Rick Perry's chief campaign apparatchik Mark Miner (what is it with Republicans and chickens this election cycle?), Democrats have been smelling blood in the water. The big follow-up attack came from former Houston mayor Bill White, who on Thursday dubbed his opponent Part Time Perry. The White campaign got hold of Perry's calendar for the first five months of the year, and calculated that Perry had scheduled events on 68 out of 106 business days, and only logged an average seven work hours of a week. According to the White campaign, that's $428.57 an hour, not including the $9,000 a month rental mansion.

Potentially even more damaging are the revelations that, if the records are complete, Perry had 29 photo ops in that time, and talked to Fox News' Neil Cavuto more often than he talked to agency chiefs.

Perry, who is currently in China, wasn't around for any rebuttal. However, Democrats took the time to remind voters about his controversial 2009 trip to Israel and the TexasOne fund that paid for it. The program describes itself as "a non-profit and non-partisan program of the Texas Economic Development Corporation" aimed at "strategic economic development." Not so, said White, who said that by acting as an adjunct to Perry's office it is violating its 501(c)3 status. "It can't be for political advocacy, it can't be to support, out of private funds, things that he's doing in his official capacity." White said he wanted it reclassified as a 501(c)4, which can undertake lobbying but would have to release its full donor list.

Like the Miner debacle, the latest press opportunity orchestrated by Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples may also backfire badly. Last week Staples seemed to escape unscathed from questions about the relationship between his campaign and his office. On Friday Staples unveiled a map showing that 96% of Texans have access to broadband Internet access (although only 62% of consumers are actually connected.) His Democratic challenger Hank Gilbert dryly fired back, "I'm sure people on landline modems will be grateful to Todd-after the 45 minutes it takes them to actually view the map to determine, sure enough, that their area isn't served by broadband."

However, the broader story there for the Gilbert campaign is that, rather than planning rural broadband expansion themselves, or working with state universities to do so, Staples' TDA spent $3 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act cash on getting Kentucky-based Connected Nation to do it for them. In its press release, the Gilbert campaign cautiously said that "Connected Nation is accused of being a front for the telecom industry."

At least it's been an easy week for Republican Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, whose big announcement over the weekend was that he's got a plane.

Come again?

Yes, Patterson's people sent out a press release on Friday that he's be flying a vintage OY-1, a maritime variant of the Stinson L-5 Sentinel observation plane, to a fundraiser at the Silent Wings Museum in Lubbock.

This plays to Patterson's unique campaigning combination of folksy charm, military service and odd moments of grandstanding. Of course, it could also become an awkward visual metaphor for the land commissioner. The OY-1 was a spotter plane that saw service during WWII. This leaves Patterson in an antique, high above rural Texas, staring down but not really interacting with the farmland below.

In fact, the Dems may have so many targets of opportunity amongst former legislators (Perry, Staples and Patterson all spent time under the dome) that it's easy to forget the important state rep races. Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, has been a bulwark of conservatism on the House floor, but she's under a shadow now since News 8 Dallas-Fort Worth discovered that she and her husband are driving cars loaned to them by Durable Enterprise Equipment Ltd.: That firm's owner also owns Paradigm Traffic Systems, which has been awarded $12 million in Texas Department of Transportation contracts over the last three years. Playing a quick round of "follow the money," Democrats are demanding that Speaker Joe Straus remove her from the House Transportation Committee.

However, losing a committee seat may be the least of LHB's worries: She only held her seat in 2008 by 19 votes, and she faces a fresh Democratic challenge this year from Loretta Haldenwang.

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