By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The first brainstorm occurred while I was in the drive-through at Arby's. I was about to pay with a $10 bill when I wondered how many times that piece of currency had changed hands. That was the genesis of my guerrilla campaign. I began writing "Gonz for Congress: A Contributor to the Economy" on all my money in an effort to circulate my name on the cheap. And in addition to handing out the new, correct campaign cards to just about everyone I met on the street, I also left them in random public places: in the checkout line at the supermarket, on the counter of my bank, on soda machines, wherever people would stumble upon them.
The second idea was to make the most of the Internet. In July, the staff helped me launch www.johngonzalez4congress.com. It was a masterstroke--a place where I blogged about myriad, touchy issues (gay marriage, stem cell research, etc.) while couching everything in humor. I got a good amount of feedback. My favorite came from George Whitfield, who sent this e-mail in August:
I went to your Web site as a result of the reference to your campaign in the Dallas Observer. You have a fine sense of humor and are a good writer. I also checked out the Web site of Frank Gonzalez, the Libertarian candidate in the 21st District of Florida. But after reading your positions on the issues of foreign policy, troops in Iraq and pre-emptive strikes as a "New Libertarian," I sent a check to Frank and this email to you.
In a congressional campaign where nearly half of the more than 650,000 people living in District 5 reside in Dallas County, The Dallas Morning News editorial board has incredible influence. How do we know who our daddy is? Because those duplicitous half-asses over at the Morning News have a monopoly on the daily newspapering market...and they tell us so.
The majority of my campaigning, I worried, had little effect. I was doing low-impact stuff--appearances at area high schools and colleges, VFWs and Albertsons, all trying to solicit votes. Hard to win an election that way. So I swallowed hard and smiled pretty when I met with the editorial board in late August.
There were three editorial board members in attendance, including boss lady/dervish Keven Willey. They sat on one side of a large conference table. On the other side, seated to my immediate right, were the other two congressional candidates, Hensarling and Bernstein. Before we began, there was some small talk, and it looked like everything might run smoothly until I pulled a tape recorder from the inside of my suit jacket and asked if it would be all right if I recorded the interview. I thought Willey might go into cardiac arrest. "Great," she said, "we're going to have our editorial board meeting showing up in the Dallas Observer."
It got more uncomfortable from there. Hensarling was asked what separated him from me and Bernstein. He looked at me for a second and laughed: "Well, he's not wearing a tie." It made me want to attack him. Which I did. I spent the next hour or so detailing how Congressman Hensarling had taken political action committee money from just about every big insurance and big drug company in America. I thought my arguments were articulate and well-reasoned. Before I was finished, Willey rudely cut me off and said, "OK, we get it," and moved on to another question. It hurt me inside; I sent her an e-mail thereafter telling her as much.
Not surprisingly, Hensarling picked up the DMN endorsement. Meanwhile, the bastards all but lampooned my candidacy. But I don't think I got the worst of it. No one expected the Libertarian candidate, who's also a rival newspaper columnist, to be treated justly by the DMN. But what about Bernstein? He was running as a major-party candidate, and he was every bit as eloquent and personable as you'd want in a candidate. But the DMN brushed him aside, too.
In some respects, I think Bernstein had a rougher go of it during the campaign. He's a fine man, and he truly believed what he was saying. But because he was running against a Republican incumbent in a Republican district, he was abandoned by his party. They gave him little support and less money. By his own account, the people on his staff worked hard, but there were only 10 to 20 of them--not nearly enough for a congressional campaign. Worse yet, he raised somewhere in the $20,000 to $30,000 range; conventional wisdom says you need something closer to $1 million to win a congressional election. The Democrats aren't stupid. They saw all those things--a red district, an incumbent, no money--and they sacrificed Bernstein. Welcome to Texas politics, where even the Democrats are third-party candidates.
"You have to look at it from the party's perspective," Bernstein says. "If you're going to put money into a campaign, it makes sense to put it into the Frost-Sessions race or a race they think they can win. Now I don't agree with them, and I think it's a real tragedy about politics that money wins elections instead of people. I still think anything can happen in my race. Look at the Red Sox. No one gave them a chance, and they came back from the dead to win the World Series."