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A Crowded Field Makes Getting Noticed Tough

The multitude of candidates for statewide office, mainly on the Republican side, will make it difficult for unknown contestants to get noticed in the short period between the holidays and the primary elections.
Breaking out is hard to do, and breaking out of the political crowd could be particularly hard for Texas Republicans in early 2014. With a stuffed ballot — more than a dozen candidates are in the top four races alone — it will be expensive and difficult to win any real attention from voters.

“We’ve never had a primary like the one we’re going to have,” said Ted Delisi, a Republican political consultant. “We’ve had Coke versus Pepsi” — a reference to the 2010 primary between Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison — “but we’ve never had the open-mic night we’re about to have.”

The Democratic field is much less crowded, and many of the Democrats who are filing for statewide office could have the luxury of running unopposed in the primaries next year.

Time is relatively short. Campaign filing, now underway, continues through Dec. 9. Advertising a political candidate during the holidays is probably useless, and there are less than eight weeks between Christmas and the start of early voting for the primaries on Feb. 18. Election Day is two weeks later, on March 4.

That window doesn’t give candidates a lot of time to get their names and ideas in front of voters. It’s expensive, for one thing, and there will be a horde of candidates clamoring for voters' attention.

Some candidates will have a financial advantage and the opportunity to translate that into an electoral advantage. That’s a mass-market version of the problem. Collect a bunch of money, buy a sufficient number of ads to make sure that people know your name and associate it, somehow, with the idea that they’d like to have you in elective office. That sort of TV campaigning runs about $2 million weekly in a state with more than a dozen and a half media markets.

Some candidates will be able to afford it, but even they will have difficulty being heard in the din of the campaigns.

Down the ballot, the problems increase. Candidates are less well known, have less money and aren’t running for offices that the public seems to care about: comptroller of public accounts, commissioner of the General Land Office, commissioner of agriculture, justice of the Texas Supreme Court. Races for president and governor are sexy; the rest is the stuff of high school civics classes. It’s hard to spark much interest.

There is a small-ball version, however, that might make more sense, especially for candidates who don’t have enough money to pursue the classic mass-market big-TV-budget option.

The Republican primary is relatively small, though it has dwarfed the Democratic primary during the last two election cycles. Less than 10 percent of the state’s adult citizens show up for it. Here’s another way to think about that: A television ad seen by every single citizen adult in the state would be wasted on nine out of 10.

It’s pretty easy to break that down, to advertise where the voters are, both online and on TV. But it is still expensive, and even for candidates with the money, it will be a crowded marketplace.

Some candidates are already trying to start the conversation with voters. State Sen. Dan Patrick, one of four Republicans running for lieutenant governor and the only one who has never run a statewide race, is already running television ads and sending mail to voters. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, also in that race, has already dropped some mail.

At this stage, candidates want to generate some signs of traction, the better to attract endorsements and donations and, eventually, voters. It’s a gamble to spend early, a bet that money needed closer to the primaries will appear.

Endorsements are a big part of the game right now. Watch the candidates when someone like Sarah Palin or Chris Christie is in the state. Some endorsements come from groups that can actually advertise or work door to door on behalf of candidates. Others are big names, who can help, too. Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, running for lieutenant governor, has the former pitcher Nolan Ryan in his campaign. The rocker Ted Nugent is co-chairman for Sid Miller, who is running for Staples’ job. Ryan himself has been promoted as a possible candidate for agriculture commissioner, too. Endorsements actually count for something.

Donors might notice. Even better, voters might.

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/11/15/crowded-field-makes-it-hard-get-noticed/.

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