The first Republican Senate primary of the 2014 midterm season is March 4, which means that Texas Sen. John Cornyn's tea party opponents have less than two weeks to convince voters that a politician with a 100 percent rating from the National Rifle Association is in fact the "liberal John Cornyn."
They are putting up a valiant fight, especially Dwayne Stovall, who released a video this week that perhaps represents the apotheosis of the art form that is the Texas campaign ad.
His opponent, Steve Stockman, has also learned much in the ways of the campaign advertisement from his fellow Texans. When he was running for office in 1996, he offered a signed and framed copy of the Contract with America to supporters.
Now he knows that tweeting silly pictures is a far better use of his time than 10-minute campaign ads with Newt Gingrich.
The best thing about the Earth is if you poke holes in it oil and gas come out.
— Rep. Steve Stockman (@SteveWorks4You) March 21, 2013
Below is a history of this art movement -- the Hudson River School of campaign advertisements -- and an appreciation of the prodigies of whom Stovall is a disciple.
The birth of the Texas campaign ad
Lyndon B. Johnson's 1964 presidential campaign featured perhaps the most influential attack ad of all time. The "Daisy" ad set out to terrify Americans into thinking that a vote for Barry Goldwater was a vote for total annihilation of Earth. It worked, even though the ad never mentioned Goldwater and only aired once.
Although all campaign ads that followed were indebted to LBJ's, campaign ads from his home state obviously considered the 36th president as a mentor, if not ideologically, at least politically. All of the following ads share the Daisy ad's complete lack of subtlety and effective inducement of terror. Here are some other artistic touches that have gained in influence over the years.
You must have a dog, cowboy hat, horses or an oil rig in your ad. They are your Texas passport. Scratch that, you must have ALL of them.
This is an obvious rule, and needs no further explanation.
And don't forget the pickup truck
Dwayne Stovall's pickup truck has been a constant companion in his campaign ads, no matter that he may have rendered the once-essential detail obsolete by his bold introduction of a Texas flag tie to his ad.
Side note: American flag ties are not quite as effective, as proved by the ad of Mike Sutton, who has run for city council in Denton, Tex., multiple times without success -- despite promising a "big a** party" at his coffee shop afterward if he won. According to the Denton Wiki, Sutton rides his pet pterodactyl to work every day and drives a car called the Deathmobile, covered in the names of American war casualties.
Candidates from other states have tried to adopt the pickup truck with great success. Scott Brown made an entire campaign ad all about his truck.
Rick Santorum's pickup truck was even immortalized in a New York Times infographic.
Great! Now that you have your cowboy hat/horses/pickup truck, how about you put "Big" in front of your name, so you have one more thing in common with Texas.
If you put a "Big Bad" in front, that's probably even better. But leave the fringed jacket at home. We don't want to go too over the top here.
For extra credit, mention Christmas or Ted Nugent
Just like this.
However, if you are a national candidate, Christmas appeals lose their effectiveness, as proved by Rick Perry's "Strong" ad, which was the most watched online ad of the 2012 presidential campaign -- and not because people liked it.
Ted Nugent endorsed Sid Miller, who is running for the Texas Agricultural Commission, in an ad this January. It took a few tries for him to remember the name of Miller's Web site, but this does not matter, because he is Ted Nugent -- whose political achievements include telling the president to "suck on" a machine gun, telling an NRA convention that he will "either be dead or in jail by this time next year" if Obama won reelection in 2012 (neither happened), and that he is "not to be confused with the Barack Obama gang who believes in we the sheeple and actually is attempting to reimplement the tyranny of King George that we escaped from in 1776." Also, Sid Miller was standing next to him in a cowboy hat.
Have a narrator mention "liberals" in an ominous bass voice. If you'd rather show, not tell, electrocute a liberal.
For something completely different, pretend you are making a car advertisement for the Super Bowl.
Although the most watched online ad of 2012 was Rick Perry's worst addition to the canon, his team produced some good ads, too, the best being the "Champion" ad released in January 2012.
The ad also features a quick shot of Ronald Reagan, who is the national Republican Party's version of a cowboy hat.
If you are George P. Bush, you probably don't need the pickup truck. Just make sure you mention Barbara Bush.
It's not just campaign ads either.
Public service announcements in Texas share much of the same qualities as their more overtly political siblings.