Great. Another five weeks. If misery loves company, our company for the next month will be more social, digital and TV poundings from two candidates for mayor who have spent about $15 million picking on each other.
Great. Another five weeks of incumbent Mayor Sylvester Turner and his scruples. Another five weeks of challenger Tony Buzbee and his connections to presidents and judges.
Any chance we can call it good, have the run-off next week, and skip what will amount to very little change in the way anyone thinks about our options for mayor? At least that way we wouldn’t have to interrupt a Saturday of Christmas shopping (Dec. 14) to cast another vote in this election.
Maybe, instead of Turner and Buzbee dropping another 7 or so million on this run-off, they can donate the money to a shelter, and we can end an election cycle that has felt far too much like the slime seeping from Washington, D.C.
There’s plenty to dissect from this week’s general municipal election, but let’s start with the obvious: Money. If we take a guess at their final week of expenditures, it looks like Turner and Buzbee combined to spend around $14.8 million just to make a run-off. Buzbee spent about $9.2 million; Turner around $5.6 million.
Some simple math tells us Buzbee spent about $131 for every vote he received. Turner, with the power of incumbency, needed about $49 for every vote he earned in this general election.
I’d suppose Buzbee will spend another $5 million over the next five weeks, and Turner will need to raise and spend another $2 million to ensure he keeps his office for another four years. That means this race for mayor will end up costing around $22 million, combined, and that’s a little sickening.
Here’s an awkward, though interesting comparison. In 1988, when Michael Dukakis ran against George H.W. Bush for president, Dukakis spent a $23 million on the general election. Sure, that’s 30 years ago dollars, but still…
So what happens next in this mayoral election? In my opinion, more of the same with very little chance of different results from Tuesday’s vote.
For Turner, he’ll keep pounding his message that he’s done a decent job, he’s lifted every voice, he’s been a mayor for everyone in Houston, and that he’s deserving of four more years in office, considering the tough decisions he’s had to make.
Turner will continue to compare Buzbee to Trump, and that will resonate with the base of his supporters. Meanwhile, he’ll get a windfall from some of the candidates who didn’t make it through to the run-off.
Dwight Boykins, who finished fourth in the voting with 14,000 votes, will have minimal impact in the run-off. I think Turner, to an extent, will reach out to Boykins and seek to mend political fences – the two, at one point, were allies. However, Boykins won the endorsement of the firefighters’ union, and I have a hard time believing the firefighters will support Turner in the run-off.
The strong Democratic and black voters who supported Boykins will shift their support to Turner; the folks who supported Boykins because of his defense of firefighter pay raises will support Buzbee, which makes most of Boykins’ support a wash.
More interesting to me is what third-place finisher Bill King tells the 35,000 people who cast ballots for him.
Heading into the early voting period of this election, King’s poll numbers were dreadful, considering he narrowly lost to Turner just four years ago. According to a UH poll, he was somewhere around 6.8 percent. On Tuesday (actually Wednesday morning), when the last votes were counted, King finished with 14 percent of the vote, more than doubling his support in the final two weeks.
There’s a reason for that, and I believe a number of voters felt King was the father-like figure of this election because he stayed as much out of the swamp as Turner and Buzbee would let him.
If King’s support doubled in the last two weeks of the campaign, it means he can have an impact on this run-off. And while I know King has thick political skin, I have a hard time believing he will throw his support behind either Turner or Buzbee. The natural recipient of King’s support would have been Buzbee – they seem more conservative than Turner – but Buzbee took a national approach to his attacks on King, and I don’t think that will sit well with King or his supporters in the next few weeks.
Buzbee made a bed of constant attacks, and now he’ll have to sleep in it for the next month. I think he’ll get half of Boykins’ supporters. He’ll probably get half of King’s supporters, just by default. And for the other candidates who received votes – Sue Lovell, Demetria Smith and Victoria Romero – there are another 6,500 votes in play that will likely fall to Turner.
There are but a few ways I think Buzbee can seriously contend in the Dec. 14 run-off, and it doesn’t matter if he spends another $5 million or $50 million.
First, he’d need a major controversy to come out of the Turner camp, and if one hasn’t come yet, it likely won’t come now.
Second, he needs there to be ice and snow and inches of rain on Dec. 14, limiting the number of people who go to the polls.
Third, he needs to grovel to Bill King and Dwight Boykins, ask them to join his team, and promise the political moon if they’ll go to bat for his campaign.
Those are three options that don’t sound great for the Buzbee camp, but this is politics, and five weeks is a long time for something interesting to happen. Especially misery.