HOUSTON -- Just when you thought it was safe to watch TV again …
“Lies! Shady deals! Ethical failings! It’s everything that’s wrong with Washington!”
The shadowy images show dark silhouettes of men carrying suspicious looking briefcases, edited around pictures of Washington landmarks. Headlines ripped from newspaper stories flash onto the screen against a soundtrack of scary music. In a sinister typeface looking like something out of a slasher movie, a politician’s name flashes across the screen.
“Congressman Steve Stockman,” an announcer intones. “Just another shady Washington politician.”
Grab the remote control, Texas, and send the kids out of the living room. Tis the season for nasty political ads.
With six weeks left before Texans cast their ballots on primary election day, the first droplets of a coming mud storm are already splattering across Houston television screens. We Texans will elect a new governor this year, but in case you hadn’t noticed, other races are already getting nasty.
A political action committee called Texans for a Conservative Majority is already on the attack, blasting Congressman Steve Stockman’s surprising underdog campaign for the U.S. Senate. Even though the incumbent Sen. John Cornyn is widely considered all but certain to win his party’s primary, the PAC struck quickly with a hard-hitting spot highlighting a series of damaging Houston Chronicle stories that raised questions about what Stockman has done with his campaign funds.
“I think there’s a lot of concern, particularly on Mr. Cornyn’s part, that this turnout will be very low, will be very conservative, will be very Tea Party,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU analyst. “And there’s a chance, however slim, that Stockman may gain some traction here.”
Although it will appear at the top of the ballot, the U.S. Senate race -- pitting a well-financed incumbent against an embattled challenger who’s virtually unknown statewide – isn’t exactly the hottest race of the season. That distinction arguably goes to the GOP primary contest for lieutenant-governor, in which incumbent David Dewhurst – proven vulnerable to Tea Party challengers when he lost his U.S. Senate race to Ted Cruz – faces three challengers.
Dewhurst hopes to defeat State Sen. Dan Patrick (R – Houston), Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples without a runoff. Patrick and Staples both briefly hit the airwaves last October with commercials emphasizing the hot-button issue of immigration.
One recurring theme in Republican primary spots: President Obama is not even on the ballot, but a number of GOP politicians drop him into their commercials to make sure voters know they don’t like him.
Get used to it. Later this year, after the March primary and maybe some runoff races in April will come a deluge of political ads tied to the heavily financed race for Texas governor.