For the most part, Tuesday’s primary to elect statewide nominees had little in the way of controversy or telling story lines.
Sheila Jackson Lee easily disposed of challenger Richard Johnson, garnering 82 percent of the vote.
Incumbent Governor Greg Abbot won 90 percent of his party’s vote in Harris County, while U.S. Senator Ted Cruz won 87 percent.
But one race – the one to fill retiring U.S. Rep. Ted Poe’s seat in District 2 – turned the heads of voters and political observers simply because the one candidate who spent a family fortune won’t even appear in a May 22 run-off.
Of the nine Republican candidates looking to fill Poe’s seat, philanthropist Kathaleen Wall poured nearly $6 million into her campaign – the same amount Cruz raised in an election that spanned the entire state. Wall appeared on TV sets for three months straight, bought advertising during the Olympics, and hired groups from Hollywood to Washington, D.C., to run her campaign.
A lifelong Republican Party contributor, Wall seemed a shoe-in to at least earn a spot in the District 2 run-off. Except she didn’t.
Kingwood State Rep. Kevin Roberts won 33 percent of the vote, and veteran Dan Crenshaw, known for his eye patch and his jogs throughout the district – which includes parts of the Greater Heights, Timbergrove and Lazybrook – barely edged out Wall for the second spot in the run-off. He won 12,644 votes to Wall’s 12,499.
The startling results become jaw-dropping when comparing the amount of money spent to win the Congressional seat.
Roberts raised $343,071 for his campaign, according to Federal Elections Commission reports. He spent $374,616, which included a loan to his campaign.
Crenshaw’s coffers were even smaller. He raised $171,282 and spent just $92,064.
And then there’s Wall, who stormed not just the district, but the entire Greater Houston metro area, with TV, radio and digital advertising certain to build her name recognition.
Wall raised just $32,206 from contributors, but she poured in $5.9 million of her own money. The initial bank account is startling, but the amount she spent is even more shocking.
According to her campaign finance reports, Wall spent a total of $1.97 million on advertising. She spent another $1.34 million just to produce and place those ads. And she spent $172,753 on “consultant” fees in the few months leading up to the primary. She even spent more than $38,000 on opposition research – the kind of campaign maneuver that happens in national races, not Congressional district, hyper-local contests.
“I don’t know if you can over-saturate a marketing with advertising,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “But you can get in trouble if your ads are ineffective.”
Based on the $4.375 million Wall listed as expenses, it turns out her 12,499 voters cost her $350 each.
“She was a flawed candidate,” said Dr. Robert Stein, a Heights residents and long-time professor of political science at Rice.
“She had crafty ads, but she had no message.”
As early voting numbers came in, Stein said Crenshaw’s campaign management was masterful because he trailed so much after the early votes. Indeed, after absentee numbers came in, Crenshaw only had 824 votes to Wall’s 2,368.
“[Wall] was not a strong candidate. She didn’t find a niche,” Stein said. “She ran like she was running for President of the United States.”
Jones agreed, saying Wall’s entire campaign strategy was misplaced.
“Historical data tells us that about 50,000 people are going to vote in this election,” Jones said. “You know how many people are going to vote, and you pretty much know who is going to vote.”
To reach those 50,000, Jones said Wall erred greatly by advertising to the 7 million people in the Houston media market.
“What she spent wasn’t effective,” Jones said. “She was seen as stand-offish and rude. She was seen as someone who avoided the pubic, avoided the voters.”
Stein was even more blunt: “She didn’t campaign. She didn’t go door-to-door. She tried to run a wholesale campaign from 30,000 feet, and it didn’t work.”