The Authenticity Election

The rise of the unlikely candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders has seemingly come as a surprise to a lot of folks, but it shouldn’t. Every election has a personality…a veritable stream of shared consciousness…and this one is no different.

In modern times we have many, including “Hope” in 1992″, “Soccer Moms” in 1996, “Security Moms” in 2004, “Enough is Enough” in 2006, “Change” in 2008, and now, “Authenticity”.

After decades of “made for tv” candidates–which, ironically, Trump actually is–the patience of the electorate is exhausted from the perfect hair, in the perfect outfit, with the perfect backdrop of “real America”, reading perfectly poll-tested lines from a teleprompter.

It is the implied social contract of political campaigning that we all accept and understand: this candidate is intentionally telling us things that he or she knows to be a) false, b) impossible, c) both. We go along with it and clap politely at all of the appropriate times because we think that despite the pageantry and bullshit our candidate is the best.

Let’s just be honest, we’ve all had enough.

We are ready for a candidate who may have slightly mussed hair, may curse at both appropriate (and inappropriate) times, may say something off script…something that may even be [gasp] not politically correct.

They are not worried about how the media pool will report it. You know why? Because they are real people, living in the moment, speaking from the hip and from the heart. They are candidates comfortable in their own skin and telling the electorate, “Here I am! I have dry scalp, orange skin, wild ideas (that you actually kind of agree with in one way or another), and I’m very likely to say something crazy at any point. Vote for me, vote against me, I don’t care.”

And, based on both the results from Iowa and New Hampshire, and the national polls, it’s working.

You know why? Because it implies authenticity. It means they are real. We can identify with someone real. In this day and age of politics the electorate is willing to support someone they do not agree 100% with if they find them to be authentic, honest, and credible.

It is the difference between watching the WWE and the UFC. It is about true belief, not the suspension of disbelief.

The so-called rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump isn’t attributable to some mass psychotic break by the electorate. It is directly attributable to election after election of candidates that held more in common with a display at Madame Tussaud’s than real people.

Authentic candidates will continue to do well, but the biggest threat to the more traditional candidacies of Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton isn’t the two guys currently leading the authenticity primary , it is former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

He is a Democrat-turned-Republican, philanthropist, multi-billionaire who is keen to take on guns (both legal and illegal), crime, public health, and affordable housing. He has unlimited access to money and isn’t moored to the dogma of a party. He’s Ross Perot without the crazy VP pick or the grating voice and staccato delivery.

Based on the chaos created by the authenticity election, Bloomberg is better positioned than any third-party candidate since ol’ TR and the Bull Moose Party. The kicker? He has all of the authenticity with none of the crazy. He is the 800-pound gorilla in the room ready to wreck the Tea Party, both literally and figuratively.


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Crosspost: The San Antonio Civil War of 2015

As seen on

Strother: The San Antonio Civil War of 2015

Colin Strother, a strategist on the Jose Menendez for Senate campaign, pulls the curtain back on how they were able to pull of what many in the capitol community saw as a huge upset over Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer 

Editor’s note: Quorum Report has previously reported on the analysis offered by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer about the tough race in which he was defeated by Sen. Jose Menendez. We now offer the other side of the argument for your consideration – SB

I’ve been on more than a few underdog campaigns.

In 2004 I engineered the defeat of then-Congressman Ciro Rodriguez in the Democratic Primary and defended the seat two years later. To say we beat the establishment is an understatement. Trial lawyers, environmentalists, labor, and party officials (including the state party chair) marshaled all of their resources against us to no avail.

The special election and runoff to replace former Sen. Leticia Van de Putte in 2015 looked the same on paper: A largely ineffective yet beloved partisan in Trey Martinez Fischerchallenged by Jose Menendez, a commonsense problem solver with relationships across the aisle and an unparalleled work ethic.

The San Antonio Civil War of 2015, as I’ll call it, wasn’t exactly brother against brother (although media consultant James Alderete was with Trey while his brother Eddie Alderetewas with Jose), but it pitted neighbor against neighbor and friend against friend. Although I was Jose’s first Chief of Staff I am also friends with Trey.

Since the 19-point win we laid on the favorite I haven’t had many questions about why or how we did it. Instead, it’s mainly been met with astonishment. After all, Trey was supposed to be the roughest, toughest, rootinist, tootinist, guy West of the Brazos.


He was a paper tiger who had never been in a real fight, but was certain that if he ended up in one he could whip anyone. He took bad advice from bad consultants who were unable to overcome 14 years of Trey painting himself into a hyper-partisan corner.

Trey had spent years cultivating his brand as a partisan “fighter” and focused on getting headlines. Jose, on the other, hand spent nearly the exact same amount of time just being Jose: building trust and good will both in the district and in Austin, getting to the table where decisions were being made, and getting results.

When voters – Democratic voters – were presented with the empirical evidence, they chose the work horse over the show pony.

When Democrats found out that he was receiving tens of thousands of dollars from Republican donors like predatory lender Trevor Ahlberg they either voted against him or stayed home (either outcome a victory for us). When Democrats found out that he represented money laundering clients and profited from insurance lawsuits while serving on the committee that regulates insurance companies they were repulsed in a way far exceeding our hopes.

Do not believe the amateurish “analysis” that says State Senator Jose Menendez was elected by Republicans. The data paints a decidedly different picture.

In fact, even if zero Republicans voted in the runoff Senator Menéndez still wins by 922 votes – not exactly a squeaker.

The fact is that in the entire runoff we did not target a single Republican. If a Republican got one of our mailers or a doorknock it was either an accident or the result of a house divided. We beat Trey with Democrats by exposing who he really is. We did it without the glitz and the headlines, just the raw data about who was funding him, his voting record, and his lack of a legislative record.

So how did we do it? I’m glad you asked. It was simpler than one might imagine.

First, we assembled a team of worker bees and eschewed queens. Second, we challenged the candidate and committed him to a plan based on data instead of daydreams. Third, we went old school: ID, persuade, and turnout.

In fact, if I had my way we would not have spent one penny on television. I felt it was an exercise in vanity and the results from the first round of the Special Election backed that up. But, the truth was that donors expected to see us on television and see that we were competitive in terms of our buy versus Trey’s buy. We had to spend money on a worthless endeavor in order to make money for our worthwhile endeavors.

We obliterated any semblance of an echo chamber and fostered a culture that could only be described as “perpetual disagreement” where every idea, strategy, and message was rigorously debated, cussed, discussed, and honed until it was beyond good.

We played for the win from day one in both the first round and the runoff. Trey on the other hand was urged on by ego and bad advice to pursue an outright victory without a runoff. (He spent $1 million in the first round ($144 per vote!) and was left with an empty tank for the Runoff Election. In fact, if it were not for a $250,000 check from Steve Mostyn just before the 8-day report in the runoff Trey would have reported about $26,000 cash on hand.)

While Trey narrowed his path to victory at every turn until it was the width of a soup spoon we widened our path to victory at every turn until it was the size of a superhighway. He ended up needing to thread the eye of a needle from 100 yards and we ended up needing to throw a hotdog down a hallway.

Ultimately this race reflected the personalities of the two candidates.

Trey tried to muscle all Democrats into turning out while Jose worked to persuade targeted Democrats that he was the better option and turn out only the ones who supported him. Our campaign made decisions based on a desired electoral outcome rather than a desired profit margin for the consultants involved.

In fact, at a meeting with potential donors a prominent member of the San Antonio business community held up our budget and pointed out how low our administrative costs and overhead were and used that as a motivational factor to raise more money for our effort.

We put the rubber to the road instead of the money in our pockets. Campaign Manager Kevin Lopez worked for a pittance. Media and mail were done for cost by Laura BarberenaSean Gagen at Grassroots Solutions completed 97% of our targeted door contacts in less than three weeks for only $45,000. Sandra Hernandez at Prestige Printing cranked out our printed materials at the speed of light at a price far below market rate. If you wanted that new deck for the Summer, this wasn’t the campaign for you.

We knew we needed to be nearly perfect, and we damn near were.

The San Antonio Civil War of 2015 was one for the ages. The contrast in the styles of the candidates was manifested in the styles of the respective campaigns. It was tough for everyone involved and I suspect that some relationships will never be repaired. In the final analysis, the right man won, the best campaign won, and the families of the 26th Senatorial District won big.

Colin Strother is an Austin-based political scientist and Democratic political consultant. He was a strategist on the Menendez for Senate Campaign. He can be found at

The complete column from Colin Strother can be found in the R&D Department.

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Governor Greg Abbott Inaugural Address Word Cloud

Not wanting our new Governor to feel left out, I gave Governor Greg Abbott’s inaugural address the Word Cloud treatment. “Texas” seemed to be on his mind.

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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Inaugural Speech Word Cloud

An interesting way to look at Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s inaugural speech. Behold, the Word Cloud!

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For Texas Democrats Same Song, Sixth Verse

Stop me if you heard this one before: Texas Democrats get their asses handed to them in a mid-term election.

Unfortunately for me, I have heard it six times in six midterms. I recall moving to Austin in the Summer of 1994 (man, that was a great summer) and joining the staff of Comptroller John Sharp just in time for the credits to roll on the reign of the Democrat in Texas. Not only did Governor Ann Richards lose, but the so-called Republican Revolution decimated the Congress. We were 7 for 8 on statewides.

Bump in the road. Still have a great bench. Coming back next cycle.

In 1998, we ran a proven statewide winner, four-term Land Commissioner Garry Mauro. He was a FOB (Friend of Bill) and had what was at the time the best database of voters and Democratic activists statewide. He also had a very capable staff of battle-hardened veterans. Unfortunately for former Commissioner Mauro, he was getting on the tracks in front of the W train that was headed full speed for DC. There was no lift at the top of the ticket and the two most important races on the ballot–Lieutenant Governor and Comptroller–lost by the narrowest of margins (68,000 for Lt Guv & 20,000 for Comptroller). We went 0 for 14 on statewides.

But we had a plan.

2002. New guy. You’ve never heard of him. More money than sense. Hispanic. He can self-fund and awaken the sleeping giant of Hispanic voters. A triple threat if there ever was one. Bested Mauro’s margin by a full 8 points…but still couldn’t break 40%. There was no lift at the top of the ticket and the most important race on the ballot–Lieutenant Governor–lost by 260,000 votes. We went 0 for 15 on statewides.

Clearly, we were in a free fall. The so-called “Dream Team” had been a nightmare. I was livid.

On the way home from a campaign watch party at 1am I started making calls. This can’t stand, I said. We’ve got to do something different, I said. Everyone I spoke to over the next week agreed. After raising holy hell for two months for the ouster of then-TDP Party Chair and “mastermind” of the Dream Team, Molly Beth Malcolm, a vote of no confidence was held by the SDEC. I think we got two whole votes, but she resigned a few months later. Mission accomplished? This is the trough of our lifecycle, right. Um, no.

We slept through 2006 with a nice, but weak candidate who had tens of thousands of votes siphoned off by two Independent candidates (29%, by the way). No lift at the top of the ticket. Didn’t matter. When you sleep walk you don’t really care what is going on around you. We went 0 for 15 on statewides.

We’ll get them next time because W won’t be on the ballot. LOL.

2010. New guy. Unless you live in Houston, you’ve never heard of him. FOB. Can raise money. South Texas roots. Can raise money. He’ll make us competitive in East Texas again. Can raise money. In a wave election, former Houston Mayor Bill White got the best percentage of a gubernatorial candidate since Richards (42%), but was widely criticized for being a bad candidate. No lift at the top of the ticket despite a $10 million IE attacking Governor Rick Perry. 2010 made 2002 look like a success. From a near majority in the Texas House in 2008 to a 100-seat majority for the Republicans. We went 0 for 14 on statewides.

Sigh. No one knew what to do and no one really was in a position to complain. We were 0 for 58 in the prior 4 cycles.

2014. New gal. Good news: you’ve heard of her. Bad news: you’ve only heard of her because of her filibuster of a late-term abortion bill. Smart. Attractive. Ignites the base. Can raise money. Great back story. With the support of Battleground Texas and the Obama-ites she’ll swing suburban woman, bring new people to the polls, get the base fired up. No lift at the top of the ticket and the most important race on the ballot–Lieutenant Governor–lost by 900,000 votes. We went 0 for 14 on statewides.

In the words of the late, great Robin Williams in his best performance (The Survivors), “What do we do now, Sonny?”

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#VoterGames 2014: Track voter turnout via Facebook

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One of the truly great things about social media and technology is the real-time analytics that can tell you what is happening around you.

On Twitter it manifests as “trending” topics. This election on Facebook you can see voting participation as projected on a map of the United States that includes when Election Day across the country begins and ends, how many people are voting per hour, where they live, and some of their demographic information.

Check it out at the link below.

This map is live and is constantly updating based on who is posting that they have voted. That button looks like this:

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Make sure to click the “VOTE” button so that your friends and followers know you have stopped talking about what’s wrong with your city/state/country and started doing something about it.


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The Voter Games: It’s 7 days out, do you know who your voters are?

Every cycle I find myself visiting with candidates at all levels who have gone through all of the stereotypical moves one thinks a campaign needs: logo, website, Facebook, Twitter, signs of various sizes, letterhead, contribution envelope, bumper sticker, pushcard, and t-shirt. From all outward appearances they have a campaign.

After two basic questions it becomes obvious that most candidates lack the basic facts and data one would need to mount a real campaign.

Question #1

Me: What’s your magic number?

Candidate: What’s that?

Me: The number of votes you need to win?

Candidate: Oh, I don’t know. I think there were about (crazy guess that’s always way off) voters last election.

Me: The last midterm or presidential?

Candidate: I don’t know. I think presidential. Is that important?

Question #2

Me: How many positive IDs do you have?

Candidate: What do you mean?

Me: How many people have said they will vote for you?

Candidate: I think there’s a lot of support out there. I was endorsed by (fill in the blank) and I think that will help.

Me: So do you have a list of yeses…of people who said they would vote for you?

Candidate: How/Where do I get that?

It doesn’t matter how many t-shirts you’ve given to casual supporters and people you will never see again, it doesn’t matter how many bumper stickers are sitting on a shelf in your HQ that will never see the light of day, and, I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but it really doesn’t matter how many yard signs you have randomly put out if you don’t know the answer to these two basic questions about your electorate.

Questions 1 & 2 come in that order because that is the order one should employ in a campaign: if I need 10,500 votes to get to 50%, I need to accumulate at least 10,501 positive IDs in order to stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning. You can go a little out of order and start accumulating positives before you know your magic number, but sooner or later you must know how many you need or you will not know when to stop accumulating and shift to other activities like suppression and GOTV.

The good news is that if you have not figured out your magic number by 7 days out, it isn’t too late.

The bad news is that if you have not accumulated enough positive IDs (or any, as is frequently the case), it is too late.

The final week of a campaign should be entirely centered around getting your positives out to vote. If you have no list to get out, you have all of the accoutrement of a campaign but no real campaign. You have effectively bought an election lottery ticket: you may win, but it will not be because of your campaign efforts but rather outside forces of which you exerted minimal influence over.

So, if you can answer Questions 1 & 2, congratulations! The onus is now on you and yours to make it happen. If you cannot, may the odds be ever in your favor.

The Voter Games are cruel. There can only be one victor.

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