The Austin Chronicle

Election 2006

September 8, 2006, News

Ranger Rick Protects Us From Furriners, and Other TV Dramas

In political ads hitting the airwaves this week, manly man Gov. Rick Perry hoofs it along the banks of the Rio Grande and vows to keep Texas safe from "illegal activity" on the border. He deftly avoids using the words "aliens" and "immigration" in his 30-second spot and vaguely suggests that the Bush administration hasn't done squat for border security. In one of two ads that began running Wednesday, independent rival Carole Keeton Strayhorn stands before a dreamy white backdrop wearing her standard campaign uniform – red blouse, black jacket – and, speaking directly to the camera, says she wants to protect her grandkids' future "from an Austin that doesn't listen, spends money we don't have, and taxes us when they want more." She wraps up with a gentle reminder of who she is, or was before the lifelong politician remarried, changed her name, bailed from the Republican Party, and proclaimed herself an outsider like the rest of us. "This grandma wants to shake Austin up," she says. Both Perry and Strayhorn have raised the kind of money it takes (about $1 million a week) to make hefty TV buys between the traditional kickoff – the day after Labor Day – and the election. Democrat Chris Bell ran a TV ad for a limited time in July, while Kinky Friedman bought some airtime in December. Both Bell and Friedman expect to raise enough money to roll out ads later in the season. Libertarian James Werner is also running. – Amy Smith

Praise the Lord, and Pass the Stem Cells

Who says Democrats don't know anything about values? Gubernatorial hopeful Chris Bell quoted from the Bible, touched on his personal faith, and talked tough on morals Tuesday at Southwestern University in Georgetown. In a text of his remarks, Bell said, "I don't know about you, but I'm sick and tired of faith being wielded as a source of division rather than a source of strength and unity." But he cautioned that discussion of religion or faith shouldn't be banned from the public square and demonstrated why such discussion is necessary, while taking a swipe at the sitting governor. "That's why I firmly believe that our state budget is a moral document. Rick Perry does not understand that budgets are more than numbers on a line item," he said. "Budgets are moral documents that reflect our shared moral priorities as a society." Turning to health care and the GOP leadership's ideological opposition to medical progress, Bell asked, "What would Jesus do about stem-cell research? Jesus didn't tell us to heal the sick unless politics get in the way. My faith leads me to the conclusion that pursuing the cures to diseases such as Parkinson's, which took my mother's life, is our moral responsibility. What would Jesus do? He would not let political objections stand in the way of healing the sick. Stem-cell research isn't just a good idea; it's a moral calling." – A.S.

No Push in This Poll

You know that old saying about "Never assume …"? Well, OK. Texas Monthly's Politics Editor Paul Burka didn't make an ass of himself, but he might be at least a little red-faced after making an assumption about which candidate was calling him last week.

Ted Ankrum – the Democratic candidate for Congressional District 10, the Tom DeLay-drawn monstrosity that stretches from North-Central Austin to the suburbs of Houston – said he wanted to get an honest idea of where he stood in a district described by one Democratic observer as the second-reddest in Texas. And when he e-mailed the results to the media on Aug. 30, he promised, "I wanted this poll to be as accurate a reflection of voter sentiment as possible, so there were no 'push questions.' I attempted to make it as neutral as possible, so that a responder could not tell whose campaign was conducting the poll." One of the call recipients turned out to be Burka, who blogged about it on Texas Monthly's Web site – under the headline "Call from McCaul." Burka mistakenly thought that the poll was coming from the Republican incumbent, Michael McCaul, and he interpreted some of the questions as McCaul feeling out just how far he could distance himself from our increasingly unpopular president.

Well if nothing else, it shows Ankrum makes good decisions on hiring objective pollsters. (And in fairness to Burka, it was not an unreasonable assumption – if asked which candidate could afford phone polling, given the differences in the two candidates' war chests, this reporter might have made the same mistake.)

As for the results: They at least gave Ankrum some hope in a seemingly impossible district. Of 500 "likely voters" in the district, 65.2% said they would either definitely vote against McCaul or "consider other candidates"; using actual candidate names, 50.8% said they would vote for McCaul, 41.6% for Ankrum, and 7.6% for Libertarian Michael Badnarik. (McCaul, facing only a Libertarian on the ballot and a write-in Democrat, first won office in 2004 with 78.6% of the vote.)

The questions that piqued Burka's interest: "In times such as these, should a representative follow the lead of the president or follow the opinion of voters in their district?" (76.8% said "follow the voters"), and, "What is your opinion of President Bush's job performance?" (42% disapproved "strongly," and 9.4% disapproved somewhat). The poll's margin of error was 4.4%.

"I am under no illusions that the 42% of respondents saying they would vote for Ted Ankrum were truly voting for me," Ankrum said in his press release. "They are voting against an incumbent. There is no way that my campaign expenditure of some $30,000, to date, could have reached that proportion of voters. But it does say that with 65% of the voters up for a change, if I can reach them with my message of 'Change the Course,' this race is winnable!" – Lee Nichols

Meanwhile, in Libertarian La-La Land ...

The aforementioned poll (see above) should also give Ankrum plenty of ammo to tell Badnarik to shut the hell up.

One day before the Aug. 25 deadline for a candidate to remove his or her name from the ballot, Badnarik called on Ankrum to withdraw from the Congressional District 10 race. His reasoning? The conservative bent of the district makes a Libertarian the only realistic challenger to a Republican. "While Mr. Ankrum is definitely a nice guy, that is not enough to win over the Republican incumbent," said Badnarik campaign manager and committee treasurer Allen Hacker in a press release. He also said his candidate has raised more than $350,000 in campaign funds, dwarfing Ankrum's $40,000. What the press release didn't say is that in cash on hand, the candidates aren't so far apart. Ankrum says that as of this writing, he has about $5,000 available; Hacker says Badnarik has less than $15,000 (both of which pale in comparison to the $809,297 raised and $233,000 cash on hand that McCaul reported in June 30 campaign filings). But Hacker says Badnarik is currently pulling in "about $25,000 a month."

"Michael Badnarik and I agree on many issues, including that the one-term Republican incumbent has betrayed his constituents by voting for regressive immigration policies, against our veterans, and against stricter ethics rules," Ankrum said in a printed reply. "But we don't agree that democracy is served by fewer candidates in the race. We have great support in the district, and I have no intention of letting my supporters down." – L.N.

Teachers Push Cohen, Cops Back Wong

A hot state House race in Harris Co. is gaining steam as Democrat Ellen Cohen guns for the District 134 seat held by GOP Rep. Martha Wong. Cohen recently picked up the endorsement of the relatively new, yet politically influential, Texas Parent PAC, a pro-public education group that formed in direct response to legislative efforts last year to create a private-school voucher program. "Ellen Cohen is the pro-public education candidate in this race," PAC board member Dinah Miller said. "She is a fiscal conservative who will lead efforts to finally develop a long-term school-finance plan that addresses the needs of our neighborhood schools while continuing to reduce property taxes." Wong, meanwhile, picked up a law-and-order endorsement last week from the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas. Director Charley Wilkison said his group is backing Wong because of her "strong advocacy of criminal justice issues and [her] unfailing support of the hardworking men and women of Texas Law Enforcement." – A.S.

A Boost for Bolton

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, gave House District 47 candidate Valinda Bolton a surprise boost at a fundraiser last week with words of high praise and a $1,000 check. Democrat Bolton faces Republican Bill Welch in November to decide the successor to the open southwest Travis Co. seat currently held by GOP Rep. Terry Keel. Bolton supporters Bettye and Bill Nowlin hosted the fundraiser attended by local Lege delegates Elliott Naishtat, Eddie Rodriguez, Mark Strama, Donna Howard, and Senate shoo-in candidate Kirk Watson. – A.S.

Oops: No DeLay

Last week's "A Special Special Election" incorrectly stated that Tom DeLay's name must appear on the Congressional District 22 ballot. Actually, a court decision stated that the GOP may not select another candidate to appear on the ballot in DeLay's stead; however, since he officially withdrew from the race, his name will in fact not be listed. Republican Shelley Sekula-Gibbs is mounting a write-in campaign.

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