Running as a Republican in Travis County is tough, and it’s never been harder than in the year of Trump, in which Texas’ status of a swing state is a hot topic (even if it’s still rather unlikely to actually, you know, swing). The sort of conservative, college-educated suburban voters who help propel a candidate like Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty to a commission otherwise dominated by Democrats may well end up staying home this year, and that would spell trouble for Daugherty’s reelection bid.
If that happens, though, it won’t be because Daugherty did a poor job of introducing himself or his values to voters. In fact, Daugherty—whose campaign ad from early October began attracting national attention this week—has put together one of the more charming ways to let voters know who he is and what he cares about that we’ve seen.
The video, a sixty-second spot paid for by the Friends of Gerald Daugherty organization, seems more like an outtake from Parks & Recreation than it does a traditional campaign ad. In the video, Daugherty earnestly opines about transportation issues, the commuter rail, jail overcrowding, and tax rates to his wife and friends, all while everyone else tries to go about their daily lives. Meanwhile, Daugherty’s wife, Charlyn, explains that he “doesn’t really have any hobbies” and just thinks about civic life and problem-solving all day long while he’s puttering around the house. “Please re-elect Gerald,” she concludes. “Please.”
It’s a clever way to not only make Daugherty seem friendly and familiar, but also to run an ad that’s upbeat and positive during a significantly gloomy era in American politics. Add to that the fact that, even as a gag (with himself the butt of the joke), the ad features Daugherty talking at length about detailed policy that falls under the purview of a county commissioner, and it’s even something close to substantive.
That’s a lot of heavy lifting for a sixty-second ad. But if Travis County voters, who shattered first-day voting records, push the button for a straight Democratic ticket, Daugherty could lose his reelection bid, and Travis County citizens would welcome Democratic newcomer David Holmes to the commission. Holmes is new to politics as a candidate, but not to politics as a whole—he’s worked for Bob Bullock, Betty King, and Leticia Van de Putte, until a 2008 “detour into the music industry,” which is an extremely Austin thing to read in a political candidate’s campaign bio.
Ultimately, though, Holmes and Daugherty don’t seem to disagree on much of substance: The Austin Chronicle, in its endorsement of Holmes, picks the Democrat because he “considers highway corridors as a piece of the mobility puzzle, not the sole contributing factor,” which is the sort of minutia-filled detail that Daugherty would presumably want to talk your ear off about while he rakes leaves or something. Daugherty’s ad doesn’t mention his opponent at all, but Holmes’s campaign website has a lead article that argues that Daugherty “argued for lowering the penalty for strangulation family violence because how many people it has put in our jail [sic].” (If that sounds like a trumped-up, hyper-specific claim, it’s worth noting that PolitiFact rates Holmes’s charge as “mostly false.”)
Ultimately, a good campaign ad might not be enough for Daugherty to keep his seat, but in a year when most political ads fill us with despair for our civic life, he’s at least cheered us up on that front.