Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Stefani Carter, Short of Money and Friends

When I wrote about the Texas House District 102 race last week, the situation was relatively straightforward. Incumbent Stefani Carter wasn't running for re-election, having decided to run for the Texas Railroad Commission instead. Former Dallas City Council member Linda Koop had announced her own campaign to replace Carter. Koop was the favorite to win the GOP nomination and the general election.

Then a strange thing happened on the way to the voting booth. Stefani Carter announced that she was dropping her bid for Railroad Commission and would seek re-election to House District 102 after all.

After the jump, assessing how badly Stefani Carter misplayed her hand.

No matter how good or bad an officeholder is, incumbents who seek re-election are tough to beat. Political parties tend to rally around their incumbents, discouraging top-notch talent from entering the race and creating a potentially bloody intra-party fight. If Stefani Carter had decided to seek re-election to the House from the start, she might have faced no GOP opposition in the primary, or only token GOP opposition, and gone on to win easy re-election in the fall general election.

But Carter was more ambitious than that. She had her eyes set on a statewide office. Actually, given how she campaigned for Mitt Romney in 2012, Carter might have had her eyes on a move to Washington in a Romney administration. But President Romney isn't handing out any jobs, so Texas Railroad Commission it was. Given how generous Carter has been to the oil and gas interests during her two terms in Austin, she probably had reason to believe they would be generous to her in her race to move up.

This is where things began to go horribly wrong for Carter. She was mistaken in her expectation of financial backing by the oil and gas interests. According to the Texas Tribune "Carter raised $15,083 during the three months ending Aug. 25. By comparison, Malachi Boyuls, a political neophyte in that same race, raised $242,961 during the same period." Texas is a big state with three large media markets. $15,000 is not going to go very far in a statewide race. Carter may be ambitious, but she's also smart enough to realize that. So, she beat a retreat back to north Dallas and announced she would seek re-election to her House District 102 seat after all.

But, politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Coming home, Carter found that her District 102 seat was no longer hers. Three other Republican candidates had already jumped into the race to replace her. They all said they weren't going away. Former Dallas City Council member Linda Koop hadn't wasted time in lining up support. She won endorsements from the mayors of Richardson and Garland, former mayor of Dallas Tom Leppart, current State Senator John Carona, former State Senator Florence Shapiro, current Dallas County Commissioners Court member Mike Cantrell, former member Maurine Dickey, all seven of Richardson's city council members and numerous other current or former officeholders in the area. Even if they wanted to, they would have a hard time going back on their endorsements of Koop.

Even Carter's campaign consultant, Craig Murphy, might have to abandon her. Murphy had been running Carter's campaign for Railroad Commission, but Linda Koop had hired him to run her own campaign for House District 102. Murphy can't represent two candidates for the same office without a conflict of interest and Koop was there first for District 102. Murphy isn't just any old campaign consultant. He's skilled at running negative campaigns. In 2009, Murphy was a partner in Murphy Turner Associates, the proud winner of the 2009 "Pollie Award" for "Best Use of Negative/Contrast." That's the kind of political consultant Carter used to win her two elections to the Texas House. In announcing her intention to drop her Railroad Commission race and run for re-election to the Texas House, Carter said, "I’m going to run a positive campaign based on my record." Ironically, if Murphy has to drop her as a client, Carter just might have to run a positive campaign. On the other hand, the first rule of politics demands that if you're planning to run a negative campaign, you first have to deny you have any such intention. Carter has that covered. Expect her to find someone to run a negative campaign for her, even if she can't get Murphy to do the dirty work for her again.

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