Spot On
Thu September 7, 2006 1:50 am

I saw the Strayhorn TV spots today. In both spots, she appears before a plain background, speaking directly to the audience. The ads have two common themes. One is an attack on "Austin." The other is an effort to explain why she is running as an independent, without ever using the "I" word. But the spots are worlds apart in effectiveness.

The first spot:

"Why am I running for governor? Here's why: I'm 67 years old. My future isn't in politics. It's my grandkids. And I want to protect their future from an Austin that doesn't listen, spends money we don't have and taxes us when they want more. We have under-funded schools, overtaxed homeowners, foreign-owned toll roads, and a Capitol full of politicians more worried about special interests than about us. I'm Carole Keeton Strayhorn. This Grandma wants to shake Austin up."

This one works. She gives a rationale for her independent candidacy, and she attacks Rick Perry, though not by name. I'd have edited it to replace "under-funded schools" with "underpaid teachers"--there's a lot more sympathy for teachers than for the schools--and to replace "politicians more worried about special interests than about us" with "politicians who care more about special interests than about us." (Believe me, they aren't "worried" about the special interests, except how much money they can shake them down for.) And she reminds people that she's Grandma. It's not a dynamite spot, it's not entertaining, it's not visually captivating, it's not memorable, it doesn't evoke a visceral reaction, but it accomplishes its purpose.

The second spot:

"Partisan politics has let us all down. In Austin, they are so busy yelling at each other they've stopped listening to us. Let's remember who we are. Before we were Republicans and Democrats, before we chose sides, we were first and foremost Texans. And we've got to learn to set aside our political differences and get something done. I'm Carole Keeton Strayhorn. This election let's do something serious. Let's make Austin listen. Let's shake Austin up."

Boring, boring, boring. It's all about process. Voters don't care about process; they care about issues. "Get something done" is pablum. The spot doesn't give voters anything to care about.

Even before the ads aired, Perry's campaign Web site attacked Strayhorn's attempt to distance herself from "Austin": "It's hard to figure out when Carole Strayhorn became an Austin outsider. Was it before or after she was Austin mayor, a member of the Austin ISD school board, the host of an Austin TV show, an Austin-based consultant, and a 9-time candidate for public office from Austin?"

Actually, it's not hard to figure out when Strayhorn became an Austin outsider. It was when she said that the state budget passed by the 2003 legislative session didn't balance and threatened not to certify it. From then on, she was anathema to the Republican leadership, and vice versa. The leadership retaliated with a bill that stripped the comptroller's office of some of its powers, and from that moment on she was on a collision course with Perry.

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