Back in December, I said Craig James had no chance of winning the Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas. I based my assessment solely on the timing of his entry into the race; three other men had been campaigning for the seat for the better part of a year. I thought James would get at most 10 percent even if he ran a good race.
But I had no idea just how spectacularly awful his candidacy would be. Remarkably, when voters did get to know him, they found out that they hated him. Public Policy Polling memorandums noted that "As Craig James has become better known, he's just gotten more and more unpopular," and "The only real chance Democrats have at winning this race is if the unpopular James somehow won the nomination." The head of elections coverage at Daily Kos told me that he had never seen a candidate as hated as James. So nobody was surprised when James couldn't even crack four percent in the May 29 primary.
If James had put more effort into the race, he might have done better, but his entire campaign seemed thrown together and half-assed. James most likely made the hasty decision to enter the race because, as was reported by Sports by Brooks, ESPN was not going to renew his contract. James had already hinted that he wanted to pursue a political career when his broadcast career was over, and getting dumped by ESPN wouldn't look good on his CV. So he pulled a "you can't fire me, I quit!" routine.
James probably knew that he could not win the race when he entered it. Assuming Brooks's report is correct, ESPN told James that they would not renew his contract in 2011, and a quixotic Senate run must have appeared the best way to save face. And James appeared to spend as much effort running for Senate as he did trying to learn about advancements in college football offenses. For example, the only ESPN/football personalities to donate money to him were Mike Patrick, Jenn Brown, Eric Dickerson and Butch Davis. Why wouldn't James press his connections in the broadcasting and football worlds further if he were giving more than a desultory effort?
James was probably trying to build up his profile to run for the House of Representatives in the future. Entrenched Republicans represent James' home county in Congress, but they're a combined 170 years old. When James said this race was not a setup for anything else, he may have been trying to squash this rumor. Of course, the name recognition that he did build was negative, and he performed so poorly that it is hard to imagine him actually winning an election in the foreseeable future. Most telling, the factors that torpedoed his candidacy are the same ones that made him such a reviled television analyst.
He's a terrible candidate, but Craig James was born to be on TV. He has a loud, clear voice and he enunciates every word. He also has a large head, which is important because a television camera has to turn three visual dimensions into two, and big heads do a better job making this transformation. I rarely enjoyed the content of what he said, but he certainly had the skill to say it.
The problem for James is that being good on television is a different skill set from getting people to like you as a politician. A politician has to listen as well as broadcast. Politicians have to get people to at least think that they care about them. James, a notoriously diffident broadcaster, can't do this.
For an example of what a candidate should look like, watch this ad for Maryland senator Ben Cardin:
Cardin is not particularly telegenic, but that does not prevent him from cutting a great ad. In 30 seconds, you show him helping and laughing with an average voter, all while explaining how he has helped that average voter while serving in the Senate. The average voter even calls him "my friend, Ben." Maybe that overdoes it a bit, but Cardin does a great job of getting you to like him in 30 seconds.
Now take a look at a Craig James ad:
It's almost a parody. You have James riding a horse, James throwing a football and not one, but two little kids waving American flags. But also notice who James is interacting with. For most of the commercial, nobody. You see him talking to his wife at :08 and some guy with his short sleeve shirt tucked into his khakis at :11. Note that James is wearing a suit; it gives the image that he is talking down to the only average voter in his commercial, not with him.
And that's it, the rest is just him talking in platitudes. The entire ad is just Craig James lecturing and not listening.
When Craig James was a broadcaster, he never had to get people to like him. All he had to be was good on TV. As much as we complain about announcers, TV networks have captive audiences and are very slow to get rid of announcers. Joe Morgan was fired, but he had been insufferable for a decade before he got an axe.
James will most likely never win an election, but we haven't heard the last of him. Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly are hardly likeable, but they do well on cable news. I can imagine James pursuing a career as a pundit, bouncing to any show that would have him on because he is good at yelling about his opinions, which seems to be ratings gold on cable news.
College football fans are probably rid of James because he's toxic to almost any sports broadcaster. But if you watch cable news, you're not rid of Craig James just yet.
This was a guest post by the sensation known only to Twitter as @BobbyBigWheel. Follow him today!
While we’re here, let’s watch some college football videos from SB Nation’s new YouTube channel together: