Throughout the Georgia GOP Primary, we watched a series of well-qualified candidates for office run a series of bizarre ads to the far-right, far from the mainstream. It recalled a series of spoof ads from Saturday Night Live about Texas 28 years ago that led voters to reject those candidates running wacky ads. Georgia Republicans would do well to learn from the lessons of Texas years ago, and find ways to connect to all state voters, and not just a small subset of them.
When I was in college in 1990 out in Texas, the gubernatorial race was wide open, like Georgia is now. Like Georgia in 2018, the race attracted a lot of candidates. Many of them had a lot of similar views, so each resorted to a more outrageous ad to get the voters’ attention, and to win over what appeared to be a dwindling number of undecided voters.
For example, former Texas Governor Mark White was trying for a political comeback. He bragged about how many people he executed when he was governor, because Texas is very pro-death penalty. Attorney General Jim Mattox, one of his opponents, argued in his ads that he should get the credit for all of the executed criminals, because he personally signed the death warrants in each of those cases.
Now my friends and I regularly watched Saturday Night Live. My favorite part of the show was the political spoof ads and debates, of course. Picking up on the Texas death penalty angle, they had “Governor Wade Hammond” run an ad (https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/texas-campaign-1/n9895) where he sat on a stack of coffins, bragging about all the people he executed. A little later in the show, they had his rival, “Jack Harbaugh” (https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/texas-campaign-2/n9896 run ads promising to make criminals suffer more than a “comfy” electric chair. Finally, at the end of the show, they had an ad from “Randy X,” who wore an Executioner’s hood, claiming he should get the credit for the deaths (https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/texas-campaign-3/n9899) “Pull the lever for the man who pulls the lever,” his ad said.
Jokes aside, we’ve been treated to a series of ads that will just make your head shake, bringing some notoriety to the state. We have candidates pointing a gun at a teen, people promising to have deportation pickup trucks or buses, a “good ol’ boy” caricature chasing a rival candidate off his porch with a gun, and even charges that someone backed a bad bill just to undermine another candidate. One candidate was secretly recorded as saying the GOP race was about being the craziest. It was perhaps the most accurate statement made in politics this year.
These candidates have good legislative and executive experience. They’ve written legislation, enforced the rules, and need to focus on this, since we’re looking at them to be a competent chief executive for this state. These ads give a completely different look, and not a flattering one.
It’s important to note how that Texas race finished, and how Georgia politicians can learn from that. Disgusted with the choices, voters rejected these candidates and their strange ads, in favor of a fresh face who connected better with the voters. The winner was State Treasurer Ann Richards, the second female governor in Texas history, and the first elected without a husband paving the way with his own gubernatorial service. State legislator Stacey Abrams seeks to duplicate Richards’ feat this year. Unless the winner of the primary can offer ads that reflect Georgia values (one can be pro-gun or opposed to immigration without being so over the top), she could similarly make history in 2018.