'Grandma' Heats Up Texas Race for Governor

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Name recognition is considered one of the chief advantages for politicians seeking a hook for voters in the ballot booths, so having a name like "Grandma" and "Kinky" should be a winning appellation.

At least, that is the hope for two independent candidates running for governor in Texas.

With just a little more than three months before the election, Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Richard "Kinky" Friedman are trying to win the kind of familiarity among voters that Republican Gov. Rick Perry enjoys. Democrats are hoping one of them can help edge out Perry and hand the election to former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell.

State election officials won’t allow Strayhorn, the current state comptroller and a well-known Republican, to list "Grandma" as part of her name on the Nov. 7 ballot, calling the label a slogan, not a nickname.

“I have been a grandma for 11 1/2 years,” said Strayhorn, an independent candidate who took the last name in 2002 when she married her high school sweetheart. She last ran for office in 2001 with the name Rylander, taken from her second husband. "I am Grandma. That's how everybody knows me."

Friedman, who is permitted to use his nickname on the ballot, said he didn't know why Secretary of State Roger Williams made such a big deal of the ballot ID request.

“Stop picking on Grandma is what I’m telling everybody,” Friedman told FOX News. “As far as I’m concerned, they can call her Grandma.”

'Humor Bypasses'

Friedman is trying to provide a Jesse Ventura blush to the campaign, following much of the example set by the former wrestler turned Minnesota independent governor. A well-known Austin-based musician, his colorful past, signature cigar and noted "Kinkyisms," have brought the race into the national spotlight.

“I am trying to bring some humor into politics. The other candidates appear to have humor bypasses,” Friedman said.

Having been denied the use of her nickname, Strayhorn said she wanted to focus on the issues of the race, not what people call her. That's probably the best way to go, say Strayhorn supporters and others who claim she is the most serious contender to beat Perry.

"The national media has completely ignored the other independent candidate, State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who actually has an outside chance of winning the race," former Rep. Martin Frost wrote in a FOXNews.com editorial. "Perry is the favorite but Strayhorn ... is running an aggressive campaign with financial backing from some leading trial lawyers. She also is courting some parts of organized labor and is seeking support among minority officeholders."

“This is a two-person race,” said Brad McClellan, campaign manager and son of Strayhorn. “Texans are fed up.” Strayhorn is also the mother of former White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who is not involved in the campaign, but has said he's 100 percent behind his mom.

A Rasmussen Reports poll taken July 13 of 500 likely voters shows Perry with 40 percent of the vote, Strayhorn with 20 percent, Friedman with 19 percent and Bell with 13 percent. Libertarian candidate James Werner did not register on the poll.

If Strayhorn or Friedman wins the race, Texas would have its first independent governor since Sam Houston in 1896.

"The people of Texas have spoken — they're ready for change," Friedman said. "They're sick and tired of politics as usual, and they're ready to elect an independent candidate in November."

But Calvin Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, said that result is not likely.

“I think the outcome is in the can already,” Jillson said, adding that while Perry is not a popular governor, he has significant support.

But Jillson said Strayhorn could split the GOP vote, which would be good news for Bell.

“Carole Strayhorn is Christmas come early for Texas Democrats,” said Jason Stanford, Bell’s campaign manager.

What It Takes to Be Texas Governor

Republicans have led the state since 1995 when then-Gov. George W. Bush took office. Education will likely be a top campaign platform for each candidate.

Jillson said the key to the election is immigration, and whether Republicans can capture the growing Hispanic vote like Bush did in 1995 when he won 49 percent of the Hispanic vote.

"It’s hard to imagine how Republicans can become the party of Hispanics of Texas," Jillson said.

Strayhorn still has a shot at the top post because she has raised lots of money, said Harvey Tucker, a professor of political science at Texas A&M University. Bell needs a message, money and a high turnout at the polls to make it, he added.

Strayhorn's campaign reported recently that she has $8 million while Perry has more than $10 million. Texas Election Commission reports show Friedman and Bell with considerably less.

Strayhorn may also be banking on a lucky streak relating to the birth of her grandchildren. Audrey Page McClellan, Strayhorn's sixth grandchild, arrived in June.

"There’s no question. I’ve never lost an election the year a granddaughter was born," she said.

But while Strayhorn was a Republican, she's now running as an independent and that could be where her luck runs out.

Republicans have held the governor’s post for the past 11 years. Perry took over after Bush won the White House in 2000. If re-elected, he would become the longest-serving governor in Texas history.

“Support for Governor Perry’s re-election is solid, strong and growing rapidly across Texas,” said spokesman Robert Black.

“He’s got the poll position, he’s likely to fend off challengers but that doesn’t make him invulnerable by any means. He is a moderately popular Republican governor in a red state,” Jillson said.

The next few months will offer a glimpse of how the campaigns will turn — a direction Tucker predicts will go to the negative.

“They are going to be slinging some mud,” Tucker said.

Part of that mud could come from Bell, who lost his congressional seat in 2004 after a Republican-engineered redistricting map redrew lines in his district and took away Democratic support.

Like the others, boosting Bell's name recognition could be the key to his success.

“A surprising number of Republicans are so sick of the situation here, they are ready to vote for a Democrat,” Stanford said, Bell's campaign manager. “We need to make some big changes down here.”