As Clayton Williams’ press secretary during the 1990 campaign for governor against Ann Richards, I flew around Texas with the candidate on many an occasion accompanied by a variety of surrogates. Kay Bailey Hutchison, then State Treasurer, was enormously appealing on the stump. It was obvious she would one day be elected to statewide office, and equally obvious she had the ambition, desire and skill to do so.
Twenty years later, having served as a U.S. Senator since her 1993 special election against Bob Krueger, Kay’s political career is now over after having run among the most depressing, desultory campaigns in Texas history. We at the Williams campaign lost our race due to an accumulation of gaffes — which admittedly could have been ameliorated by an improved media control and press access strategy. I’ll take a hit for that.
But Kay’s “campaign” never had a rationale, never had a message, never had an overarching theme, and was never able to avoid being sucked into Rick Perry’s simple but highly effective DC vs. TX message strategy. She made no gaffe’s — she just had nothing to say. The one visual image of her stuck in one’s mind is the worried look on her face throughout the contest, with a permanent furrowed-brow.
Could she have won with a better campaign? Still doubtful.
One of her primary problems was that she’d never, really, been forced to run in a highly competitive environment. The ’93 Krueger race was relatively painless. Quite simply, candidates unaccustomed to the complexities and ugliness of statewide contests — especially in a state like Texas — are destined to fail. Such was the case in Harold Ford’s 2006 race against Bob Corker in Tennessee — whereby we were able to dismantle Ford in the last two to three weeks with a barrage of attacks.
The volume of incoming hits on Kay, just like the volume of incoming hits on Ford, were too much to assimilate for the simple reason they’d never been subjected to it. For this simple basic reason, battle-tested statewide candidates almost always have a leg up on opponents accustomed to safe, uncompetitive elections. This was clearly the case in this Texas contest.
For an excellent review and breakdown of the Hutchinson-Perry race, the Texas Tribune-sponsored “Conversation” with Perry pollster Mike Baselice and former Bush strategist Matt Dowd is enormously insightful and worth watching.