The title is “Texas Tough.” The spot opens with Hutchison in an ag setting, shaking hands with farm and ranch types. Then she appears standing at a microphone. Behind her four people are arrayed, with a fifth barely visible in the shadows. This is the unhappiest-looking collection of people I have ever seen in a TV spot. They look like they are standing in a police lineup. The voice-over says, “Kay Bailey Hutchison is a conservative as tough as Texas.” The words “TOUGH. CONSERVATIVE.” appear in white letters at the bottom of the screen. Voice-over: “She led the charge against a state income tax.” The words appear on the screen, accompanied by quotation marks, and an attribution to … Rick Perry(!), citing the Associated Press in letters too small and too dark to read.
Is this claim valid? My recollection is that lieutenant governor Bullock, who took office in 1991, had urged the adoption of a state income tax. In 1993, with his reelection looming, Bullock’s top aide, Bruce Gibson, came up with the idea of having Bullock advocate a constitutional amendment to prohibit an income tax, as a means of inoculating him against political criticism. The amendment passed. I don’t know what Hutchison’s role was, other than to be a vocal opponent of an income tax. The Dallas Morning News did a fact check on this claim that pointed out that Hutchison was hardly the only state official to oppose an income tax. It evaluated her claim as a “serious misrepresentation of the facts.”
Back to the spot: After the income tax claim, the voice-over picks up with “offered the Texas sales tax deduction” as Hutchison is shown speaking with a Heritage Foundation banner in the background. The Perry campaign has contested the extent of her role, saying that Harry Reid wrote it. (The Morning News’ evaluation of the Perry campaign’s criticism was that they had “overreached.”) Most legislation in Congress has multiple players involved, and in this case, Hutchison did introduce the amendment in 2004 that eventually became law, and another Texan, Kevin Brady (R-The Woodlands) took the lead in the House. This deduction saves Texans more than a billion dollars a year.
The voice-over picks up, “created the national amber alert, fought Obama’s stimulus spending [she is shown speaking with the U.S. Supreme Court building in the background], produced the plan to jam prisoner’s cell phones [“Jamming prisoners’ contraband cell phones” appears onscreen], and quadrupled agents to secure our border [citing the San Antonio Express-News, with video of a border patrol vehicle in rough country].
The spot ends with, “It’s time for a conservative governor who doesn’t just talk tough but delivers.” The accompanying video is of Hutchison speaking from a podium with Dick Cheney standing alongside, striking a characteristically sinister pose.
The message of the spot is good, but the production quality is poor, particularly the lighting. Many of the scenes are too dark, and the attributions for her actions are difficult to read. Still, it is a lot better than her awful first spot.
The biggest issue I have with this spot is that it underscores the fundamental strategic error of the Hutchison campaign: positioning her as a staunch conservative. There are two ways of looking at this race. One is that the primary electorate will consist primarily of the conservative base, and if she cannot win the conservatives, she loses. Conclusion: She has to assert her own conservative credentials. I understand the theory, but in practice, she can’t out-conservative Perry. Like Lee and Pickett at Gettysburg, the Hutchison campaign has chosen to attack the enemy’s best-fortified position. The second way of looking at this race is that the Republican electorate is divided into March (primary-voting) Republicans and November (general election-voting) Republicans. The latter tend to be moderates who eschew primaries. If she can appeal to them (and they outnumber the conservative base by somewhere between two and three to one), she can still win the election. Here’s an example of the numbers, using Harris County in 2008: approximately 170,000 primary voters, close to 500,000 general election voters. When she identifies herself with Dick Cheney, she alienates the voters she needs to motivate.