March 14, 2018
Best Incumbent Campaign
Best Challenger Campaign
Best Texas Senate Campaign
Best Democratic Campaign
Best Primary Team Effort
Open Race Campaign
Texas House contender Ken Strange ran one of the best campaigns that you probably didn't see in an open Republican primary contest that he won outright in a field of five just three months and three days after he'd entered the race on the far edge of the Austin area. An emergency services supervisor in the Hill Country arts and rural cultural coolness capital of Wimberley, Strange demonstrated that money isn't always the key to success on the legislative battlefield as the only House candidate who claimed a first-round win or advanced to a runoff in an open fight with a war chest that never reached the six-figure mark.
With GOP State Rep. Jason Isaac of Dripping Springs making a last-minute shift to an open race for Congress, the pool of Republican competitors filled up quickly in House District 45 where Amber Pearce established herself as the choice of tea party conservatves in the early stages of the competition. Pearce picked up endorsements from the most prominent groups on the hard right including Empower Texans and Texas Right to Life - a pair of organizations that had leading roles in an unsuccessful push to overthrow GOP House Speaker Joe Straus before he decided this year to step down on his own. Pearce padded her conservative portfolio with the Texas Home School Coalition, the Texans for Vaccine Choice and the Young Conservatives of Texas behind her campaign. Pearce cemented her lock on the conservative mantle when a handful of Texas Freedom Caucus charter members - GOP State Reps. Matt Krause of Fort Worth, Matt Rinaldi of Irving, Matt Schaefer of Tyler, Jonathan Stickland of Bedford and Tony Tinderholt of Arlington - pitched their formal support behind her bid for the upcoming opening in the lower chamber.
Pearce used a contribution of $125,000 from a ranch that she and her husband own in the northern part of Blanco County as a launching pad for a race that included Amy Akers, Naomi Narvaiz and Austin Talley - a trio of Republicans who are based in the largest city by far in HD 45 as San Marcos residents. The donation from the Diamond P. Farm and Ranch in Round Mountain - a limited liability corporation in a state where traditional corporate contributions are prohibited - accounted for almost 75 percent of Pearce's total fundraising in the Isaac replacement derby. And it probably would have been enough to win or to secure a runoff spot in the worst case scenario if her chief rival in the race had been a more ordinary candidate than the one that beat her and the rest of pack in a way that made it look almost too easy to be true.
Strange would have been a significant establishment beneficiary if the major statewide groups that have been Straus team allies hadn't already made their final decisions on how to divvy up the vast pools of funds that they control in the first round races for seats in the west wing of the statehouse. Pearce and Strange had used personal loans of $15,600 and $10,000 respectively as seed money for bids that got under way belatedly comparerd to most of the candidates in other House battles across the state. When none of the other three Republicans in HD 45 showed any real signs of being competitive, Strange's camp faced the challenge of finding a way to keep pace with a foe like Pearce who had the tea party tag and twice as money to spend and more if needed for a campaign that she'd been willing to bankroll herself. That's when Strange and his consultants decided to treat the partisan primary battle more like a local election like the kind that the small-town school trustee had won before.
Strange raised the bar on retail campaigning while working the connections that he'd made with no time to waste in an effort that culminated in endorsements from more than 50 local leaders including current and former county and city officials across the district and school board members like himself as well. Strange won support from some party activists with whom he'd had personal and working relationships that trumped ideology in his particular case. Strange's team played up the significant role that he'd had in the disaster response and recovery efforts in the aftermath of the deadly Memorial Day flood that turned the normally gentle Blanco River into a torrent of destruction three years ago. While the Strange campaign was a true shoe-leather operation, he managed to raise enough money from local supporters to foot the bill for some Internet advertising and targeted mail pieces. Strange had to maximize every limited dollar in the most efficient way with almost no room for error to ensure a spot in a spring runoff that won't be needed now as a result of a first-round victory that he achieved in slam dunk fashion with almost 55 percent of the vote in a fight with a conservative opponent who he demolised by almost 30 points at the ballot box.
Strange will have the luxury of head start now for the fall in a district where he'll face the winner of a Democratic runoff election that pits Rebecca Bell-Metereau against Erin Zwiener in an area that President Donald Trump carried in 2016 by almost five percentage points.
The Best of the Election selections for 2018 Texas primary contests will be unveiled this month in separate installments for several different categories.