An old political hand's take on Craig James's chances

12/13/11 will henceforth be known as Craig James Liberation Day. ESPN’s most odious talking head and EDSBS's sworn enemy will have to resign his position in order to run for the Senate from Texas. However, I have some bad news for everyone expecting this to take him off the air for good:

He has no fucking chance of winning.

If this was a Republican vs. Democrat race then yeah, he’d be the favorite because he’d be running in Texas. But he has to make it out of a Republican primary. And not just any Republican primary, but one scheduled to take place only four months from now. That gives James only four months to build enough of a campaign infrastructure to compete against rivals that include:

  • The mayor of Dallas, who has significant backing from the business community
  • The lieutenant governor (a very powerful official in Texas relative to LGs elsewhere) who has significant backing from the state party establishment
  • The state solicitor general, who has strong Tea Party backing

These men have been campaigning for the Senate for the better part of the year. And, unlike the current Republican presidential candidates, nobody thinks the field is weak and the base seems genuinely excited about the choices that they have. Polls still show plenty of undecided voters, but that’s typical for a Senate primary. It doesn’t mitigate the fact that James lags far behind his rivals at this point in terms of building name recognition, building his campaign apparatus, securing institutional support and fundraising.

So where does that leave Craig James? He can grab whatever consultants haven’t already signed on with one of the three major candidates. Consultants don’t care if you’re going to lose as long as you pay their bills, and James has been overpaid by ESPN long enough to be able to self-fund at least at the outset. And the one major constituency that isn’t solidly behind one of these candidates is the religious conservatives, so James could make a Huckabee-esque play for their votes, even though I’m not sure he has the religious bona fides to go after them (Huckabee, of course, was a minister). In a divided race like this, you might only need 30% of the vote to win in a primary. But I don’t see a path for Craig James to get 30% of the primary vote, unless his rivals implode.

I see two potential reasons for Craig James’s decision to run now:

  • This is a vanity run, pure and simple. After years of having smoke blown up his ass by ESPN and college football hangers on, James has no idea what it takes to actually win a political race. He ends up placing in fourth (or maybe worse, behind another gadfly candidate) and skulks back to ESPN with his tail between his legs. Which leads one to wonder if ESPN would ever rehire him. He would bring an unbelievable amount of baggage and I cannot recall them hiring any other failed candidates for public office as on-air personalities. James doesn’t have the depth of support that other hated ESPN personalities (Berman) do in Bristol so a return to the air is not a given. But if they won’t fire him after smearing Mike Leach, what’s to stop them from hiring once he’s injected himself into the political arena?
  • This is a cunning move by James to put his name out there for a potential future run for the House of Representatives. He lives in Celina, TX. The two congressmen representing the area around Celina are a combined 169 years old (Sam Johnson is 81, Ralph Hall is 88). One or both could retire in 2014. James could use this Senate run to build up name recognition for a run to replace one of them, and they both represent seats more Republican than the state as a whole.

In other words, don’t expect to see Senator Craig James anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean that he’s a cinch to return to the airwaves. Count it as a net win for America.

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