Seriously Kinky

This Texas Jewboy wants to be the next governor of Texas, and if you think he's kidding, the joke may be on you

McCall, Boynton and Hattersley, in fact, are the reasons Hillsman and Barkley, who left the Senate in 2003, are working for Friedman.

Depending on who's telling the story, either Hillsman reached out to Friedman because he believed him an interesting and even viable candidate, or Boynton and Friedman called him first because they were huge fans of his book Run the Other Way: Fixing the Two-Party System, One Campaign at a Time, published last year.

"There's this inner circle of John McCall, Cleve, Kinky and me, and we were sitting down and saying, 'If we're gonna pull this off, we need more help than we can provide," Boynton says. "We were political neophytes who needed the best people in the country."

"Kinky was on the radar screen, and I do pay attention," Hillsman recalls. "I don't take independent candidates as the joke the media does. I take them seriously, because very often they're smart people--especially if they are entertainers, because they already have a rapport with actual voters. So when I saw that Kinky was not only considering but had announced and was referencing the Jesse Ventura race, I thought maybe it would be smart if he talked to someone who had actually worked the Jesse Ventura race."

Hillsman met Friedman at a book signing in Minnesota at the beginning of the year and agreed to have further meetings in Austin. In February, Friedman, McCall, Boynton and Hattersley met at Katz's Deli and felt each other out: They wanted to make sure Hillsman was up for a long and grueling campaign, and he had to make sure Friedman wasn't trying to sell books.

"Kinky was relatively cool and asked some pointed questions," Hillsman says. "It was more attitudinal: You gotta show us you get what we're trying to do...At first I wasn't sure what their real intent was. I don't like working for candidates where there's no real will to win or no real possibility of winning. Which is why when Donald Trump has talked to me or Hulk Hogan, you go, 'No, this is a publicity stunt.' I didn't expect them to know a whole lot about political strategy--it's all about intent at that point, anyway--and I thought if there's a path to victory, I can help. And the more I thought about it the more I thought, 'There is a path.' Don't ask me what it is, because I won't tell you. We've got enough problems."

For the moment, Hillsman will remain in Minnesota, where he's overseeing a handful of campaigns, including Russ Potts' bid to become the independent governor of Virginia in November. Once the '05 races have finished, he will come to Texas to join Barkley, who drove his car down here last week and intends to stay in Friedman's Austin home till Election Day 2006. In fact, Barkley's left his wife, 16-year-old daughter and 19-year-old son in Minnesota to tend to Friedman's campaign, something he did only after spending several days with Friedman and his "inner circle" and deciding that Friedman was just like Ventura, only more likable.

"When I met Kinky it was kind of like the American dream: Can a guy like me actually do this?" Barkley says. "Is the system capable of actually accepting someone like me to actually do it? So, he gave me the right answers that his motivations were right. His one-liners were entertaining, and his issues were right. I'm a social libertarian, as he is, and so his politics fit. He had the right tools to pull it off. My only other question then is could he actually raise enough money to run a viable campaign, and I'd say the jury is still out on that, but I think that it will not be a problem. I'll know a lot more in the next couple months."

For a while, Barkley will concentrate heavily on fund raising to keep afloat what's becoming an expensive operation running up bills of $50,000 to $60,000 a month. Boynton figures the campaign has raised about $300,000 at this point, about a quarter of that coming from Internet donations and checks sent to the office. The rest of the money's been evenly divided: Half the cash comes from fund-raisers, including several hosted in Dallas and Fort Worth by restaurateur Shannon Wynne; half comes from the sales of campaign posters, T-shirts and hats.

"And the money will come as we pick up more steam, credibility and viability," Boynton says. "Absolutely, the big thing is convincing people this is a real thing, not a joke. But what I do love about the fund-raisers is that when people meet Kinky and look him in the eyes, you can tell they get it."

One of Barkley's first jobs in Texas will involve getting Friedman on the phone with his rich and famous friends and asking them to pony up. By the time of the election, Barkley would like to have $5 million, which is but a fraction of the $60 million Democratic candidate Tony Sanchez spent to get his ass handed to him by Rick Perry three years ago. Barkley insists that if Friedman can raise the money, that alone will prove to the media he's a candidate to be taken seriously.

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