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Capitol Inside "Best Of" 2016 and 2020

Lynn Stucky and Gerald Daugherty Campaigns named "Best of" 2016 and Glenn Rogers named "Best of" 2020 by Capitol Inside

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Lynn Stucky - Best Texas House Open Race (2016 Primary Election)

Capitol Inside - May 29, 2016

by Mike Hailey

You could make a compelling case for Republicans Ernest Bailes of Shepherd and Justin Holland of Heath in the debate on the most outstanding performance by a candidate in a Texas House runoff with no incumbent on the ballot this spring. Democrat Barbara Gervin-Hawkins was impressive in an open race in the Alamo City - and State Rep. Jarvis Johnson of Houston was worthy of consideration as well even though he'd been an incumbent for five days before the runoff vote as a special election winner two weeks earlier.

But the award in the most competitive category in overtime in 2016 goes to Denton County Lynn Stucky as a Republican who got off to a late start in a House race in a district where he'd appeared to have little or no chance at the outset before a blowout victory in the runoff election seven months later. Holland and Bailes had launched House bids last year with the kind of high expectations that Stucky couldn't have imagined when he entered the House District 64 contest as a candidate who couldn't get the time of day from potential supporters in the early stages of the campaign. Stucky was the Rodney Daingerfield of the HD 64 race - a candidate who found respect in short supply when he tossed his name in the ring in a district where the folks who he needed in his camp slammed the door on his requests for meetings because they thought he'd be wasting their time.

Stucky was on his own at first in an arena where conservatives and establishment forces had already appeared to have lined up behind the contest's two original candidates. Read King of Lake Dallas had the Republican hard right in his corner as a former GOP precinct chairman and national convention delegate who'd held longtime incumbent Myra Crownover to less than 55 percent of the primary election vote in her re-election bid two years ago. While King had been running for the House seat for most of the past three years, Rick Hagen had a major advantage as the field's only candidate who's a resident of the city of Denton where more than two-thirds of the House district's population is based.

Stucky in contrast lives and works in Sanger - a city that had zero residents in HD 64 when the census on which the current House map is based was taken six years ago. While the official Sanger city limits dip into Crownover's district, Republican State Rep. Pat Fallon represents all of almost 7,000 people who lived there back in 2010 when the federal head counters came to town. Stucky hadn't been part of the county courthouse crowd - and he was an unknown in the eyes of the Austin lobby on which serious Republican candidates have to depend heavily if they're not independently wealthy or on the Empower Texans PAC slate like King.

With a crown of gray, a two-toned goatee and wire-rimmed eyewear, Stucky looked more like an Ivy League professor or extra on a Smoky and the Bandit remake set than a slicked-down political pro in the mushrooming suburbs on the northern outskirts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Stucky's wife who doubled as his campaign manager may have been his only guaranteed supporter outside of himself when he ventured on to the campaign trail as a candidate who might have a chance to force King and Hagen into a runoff if he fared better than expected initially on the road to an early exit.

But Stucky started to turn heads when he raised more campaign cash in his first two months in the race late last year than King and Hagen had combined during the second half of 2015. After putting $20,000 of his own money into the race as a springboard, Stucky had wrestled the establishment banner away midway through his fourth month as a candidate with the political action committees for the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Farm Bureau as two of his first and most valuable special interest supporters.

While Stucky had jumped into the HD 64 fray without any real political connections in the district that he aspired to represent, he'd had significant experience in local politics in the area that Fallon represents as someone who'd been a Sanger school board trustee for 15 years before stepping down in 2012. Public school advocates like Texas Parent PAC and the Association of Texas Professional Educators PAC - to no surprise - had rallied behind Stucky by the end of January.

As a veterinarian, Stucky had received $2,600 from the Veterinary PAC in Texas before the initial primary election in March. But Stucky's occupation gave his opponents some ammunition that had the potential to bury his campaign amid accusations that hundreds of pets had been euthanized at an animal shelter that the city of Sanger had been paying Stucky to run when some could have been saved by more ambitious adopted efforts. Stucky's growing support in the first round of the House race had come at the expense of Hagen, who'd leveled on attack on the animal doctor's credibility based on sanctions that state regulators had imposed several years ago in connection with the dispensing of medication. But Stucky astutely steered the focus of the campaign back to the issues that resonated in one of the nation's fastest growing areas like transportation, infrastructure and education while vowing to back a conservative agenda without devoting an excessive amount of time to individual hot-button issues.

Denton County hasn't been as much of a tea party hotbed as neighboring Collin and Tarrant counties - and with King having the conservative vote locked up in his second consecutive bid for the seat - Stucky appeared to run more of a general election campaign than the typical GOP primary candidate en route to a first-place finish in March with 42 percent of the vote. King advanced to OT with 30 percent of the vote while Hagen was eliminated with less than 28 percent.

While King had raised slightly more cash from contributors during the first round, Stucky's fundraising soared when the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, the Associated Republicans of Texas and a long list of other establishment interests including realtors, architects, apartment owners and bankers boarded the bus for the runoff ride. Stucky, who rounded up almost seven times more money from supporters than King in overtime, raised more in the final week of the race than his rival managed to do in the entire second round. The results at the ballot box were almost as lopsided when Stucky trounced the conservative who'd been the early favorite with almost 66 percent of the runoff vote.

Holland and Bailes proved to be first-rate candidates as well as the consensus establishment choice who both came from behind in overtime to win in open House races in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and southeast Texas respectively. Bailes beat a conservative runoff foe 35 points after trailing by two in March in a field of six contenders including a rival who'd had the outgoing incumbent's support until the eventual winner secured it in OT. The victories by Bailes and Stucky preserved the status quo in districts that are represented by Republicans who've Texas House Speaker Joe Straus allies. Holland actually picked up a seat for the pro-Straus establishment with a narrow runoff win over a conservative rival who'd had a slight leading heading into overtime. Holland, however, had a huge inherent advantage as the Rockwall County candidate in a runoff battle with a foe from Collin County where about half as many votes were cast in OT.

Stucky faces one more hurdle with University of North Texas student Connor Flannigan as the Democratic nominee in the general election that the vet who came out of nowhere last fall will be a prohibitive favorite to win in November.

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Gerald Daugherty - Best Individual Campaign (2016 General Election)

Capitol Inside - November 21, 2016

by Mike Hailey

A cardinal rule here has been to not mess with Texas local politics. Consider that broken this time around. You could make the case that Donald Trump didn't defy the odds in an underdog victory at the top of the ticket any more than Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty managed to do in a re-election win at the bottom of the ballot. There may not have been a candidate for elected office anywhere in the entire United States of America in fact that survived a down-ballot avalanche of the magnitude that Daugherty had to overcome as the only Republican on the county commissioner's court in the most liberal urban area by far in the Lone Star State.

Daugherty's consultants - the local married couple Kori Crow and Chad Crow - deserve a bow for helping make that possible in a time and place where it didn't seem to be.

Daugherty won a new term when he defeated a formidable Democratic challenger in a district where Hillary Clinton obliterated Trump by a margin of almost 18 percentage points. Daugherty had proven that he was special when he reclaimed the local post four years ago by unseating an incumbent Democrat in a rematch with 48 percent of the vote at a time when Mitt Romney had fared much better as the White House nominee than Trump would do there in 2016. Daugherty had served six years as a commissioner before losing the seat in 2008 when John McCain hadn't fared quite as well in western Travis County as Romney would do in the next presidential election. Karen Huber - the Democrat who Daugherty ousted from the court in 2012 - had garnered 48 percent of the vote herself when voters had given him the boot four years earlier. While Daugherty's victory in the comeback bid could have been characterized as an upset, the results in the Precinct 3 competition here in 2012 and 2008 had been politics as usual compared to the way the latest battle for the job played out at the polls last week.

Almost 54 percent of the people who cast ballots in the Travis commissioners race voted straight party for one side or the other - and Democrat David Holmes claimed nearly 55 percent of the straight-ticket vote. But Daugherty had support from more than 59 percent of the Travis County residents who split their tickets in last week's general election in the precinct that he's represented for 10 of the past 14 years. Daugherty beat Holmes by almost four percentage points with nearly 52 percent of the vote - which means that he outperformed Trump by almost 22 points - an achievement that's mind-boggling for a candidate near the end of a ballot in an opposition landslide at the top. The most amazing thing about the outcome of the contest that Daugherty won may have been the fact that more votes were cast in the commissioners court race than the combined total that Trump and Clinton received in Precinct 3. Unbelievable!

Daugherty rode a red tidal wave into the local post in 2002 when he unseated Democrat Margaret Moore, who was elected last week as the new district attorney in Travis County. Daugherty had run on a platform that favored road construction over mass transit alternatives in an area where traffic congestion was becoming a nightmare - and he'd gained a reputation as a relatively moderate commissioner who sided at times with Democratic colleagues on big-ticket projects. Daugherty's largest winning share of the vote had been in the initial election 14 years ago when almost 54 percent of the voters backed him for the job. Democrats didn't even bother to field an opponent when Daugherty sought re-election for the first time in 2004. The best that he'd fared in a presidential election since that time was four years ago when he barely cleared 48 percent in the rematch rebound with Huber on the Romney ticket after losing to her by two points with 46 percent in their first encounter when McCain was the GOP's candidate for president. McCain and Romney had lost to Barack Obama in Travis County by an average of 27 points in Daugherty's last two elections. Clinton beat Trump last week by 39 points in the county where Daugherty won by almost four points more than he had the last time around.

Daugherty had been clearly concerned about a Trump down-ballot backlash - and he waffled throughout the fall fight on whether he would vote for Trump or break ranks like many other Republicans were planning to do. But Daugherty's top attributes had been a tireless work ethic and unquestionable dedication to the job - and his team found a way to package that in a campaign ad that became a YouTube sensation amid gushers of praise from national pundits who'd never heard of the guy.

The online spot that the Crows helped produce ended with Daugherty's wife pleading with voters to keep him in the job as a way to keep him out of the house so she wouldn't have to listen all day to his non-stop rambling on policy positions and statistics that could bore anyone who isn't a total wonk to death. The commissioner's commercial ranked as the number one political ad in the world in October on the Google YouTube leader board. MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida, declared it to be the best campaign ad of all time. While that may be a stretch, the results at the polls speak for themselves.

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Glenn Rogers - Best Texas House Campaign (2020 Primary Runoff Election)

Capitol Inside - July 21, 2020

by Mike Hailey

A livestock doctor from a town with less than 600 residents an hour west of Fort Worth, Glenn Rogers ripped the heart out of the hard right in the Lone Star State with an epic victory for the establishment in the ultimate clash of the GOP's warring wings in the hottest race on the Texas House primary runoff election this week.

The official record shows that Rogers defeated Jon Francis in overtime with more than 51 percent of the vote in an open race in House District 60 where the Democrats failed to field a candidate in 2020. But Rogers had been running against the entire Texas tea party for all practical purposes in a battle with a runoff foe who's married to the daughter of fracking billionaire and conservative megadonor Farris Wilks.

The Francis campaign had been choreographed like a chicken-fried Broadway production when GOP State Rep. Mike Lang of Granbury bowed out of the HD 60 race at the last-minute to clear the path for the Wilks family candidate to compete for a seat that no other potential candidates knew would be open until it was too late to run. Wilks made certain that his son-in-law would have a monstrous advantage in campaign cash and apparently thought he'd spent enough on the Francis bid that had shoved Lang out of the way with the promise of a job as a county commissioner as the consolation prize for his obedient deferral to tea party's first family in Texas.

Francis-Wilks kept it simple with a campaign that touted constitutional carry and the abolition of taxpayer-funded lobbying as the two most critical issues facing a state where a pandemic has killed thousands of people, ravaged the economy and catapulted state government to the brink of bankruptcy. Francis seemed to agree with President Donald Trump's assertions that the coronavirus crisis had been overblown and hadn't been a problem in rural Texas where the disease in reality has been spreading like wildfire. Francis didn't seem to realize that the Legislature won't have time to waste next year on partisan red-meat issues when it's desperately fighting to keep the state in business at a Capitol where the Democrats appear to be on track to take the Texas House majority in November barring a dramatic shift in GOP fortunes in the next few months.

The view of the pandemic from the mansion made it easier for Rogers to argue that the right-wing's number one Texas sugar daddy here was blatantly trying to buy the House seat with the installation of an in-law employee as the designated conservative candidate after the relegation of Lang to a Hood County commissioner contest that he would lose badly on the Wilks slate with Francis.

With a $1.5 million war chest that was mostly Wilks money, Francis had twice as much to spend on the runoff that had been extended for seven weeks as a result of the contagion that he'd dismissed as a city folks problem. But Rogers was forced to build a base of support that he couldn't expect to inherit with the help of money he raised from individual donors like Governor Greg Abbott, establishment interests like the Texas Farm Bureau, the Associated Republicans of Texas, the Texas Association of Realtors, the Texas Medical Association and a long list of other professional and business groups along with the public school advocates organization Texas Parent PAC. A former Texas Veterinary Medical Association director who served as a Palo Pinto Farm Bureau president and local school trustee, Rogers had vets in his area and across the state in his corner and a long list of agriculture organizations. Rogers raised $95,000 in the final week of the race - three times the amount that Francis managed to round up in that span of time.

But Francis hoped to more than offset the Abbott alliance with Rogers when U.S. Senator Ted Cruz rallied behind his campaign in OT as a major beneficiary of the Wilks family wealth. Cruz heaped praise on Francis as a personal friend and "rock-ribbed conservative who you can trust" to drain the swamp in Austin like he claimed that he and the president had teamed up to do in Washington.

Rogers had planned to challenge Lang in the GOP primary election before Francis replaced the incumbent n the tea party ballot lineup reshuffling when he signed up to run before a deadline that had been extended for a week after the current HD 60 representative decided to seek a demotion to the local level on the final day of the original filing period. Rogers had entered the competition after Lang said at first that he wouldn't seek a new term before changing his mind and saying he would before he did not.

But Rogers appeared to win the race based on an ability to connect with the voters in a campaign that was beautifully customized in the midst of the worst public health emergency in more than a century for the rural district that he will represent in the Legislature's lower chamber starting in January. Rogers was the kind of guy to whom a majority of the voters could relate en route to erasing a two-point initial deficit in the initial pre-pandemic primary vote before eliminating the Wilks candidate in overtime.