The path to victory for Annise Parker looked easy and if you run a well-oiled machine, that is exactly how it should be. Bottom line, Gene Locke did not win because he lacked the campaign experience that Parker had learned over the last ten years.
Locke had the support of the establishment. Money was no issue and he raked in the donations faster than he could count. Christian Archer, his campaign manager was no stranger to winning campaigns at the local level. Locke was a successful attorney with a charismatic background that included struggle and triumph ... a true American Dream-type of inspirational story.
Locke had everything going in his favor but his opponent was prepared and Parker's experience on the campaign trail proved to be the game changer.
Parker won because she was better organized and executed her strategy effectively.
Take her "Come Clean Gene" campaign, in which she controlled the election topic du jour. Even though Bill White was a lawyer, it was not an issue for Houstonians these past six years. Parker was able to make it an issue and suddenly it became taboo to be a lawyer.
The "Come Clean Gene" campaign was responsible for Locke releasing his tax returns just before Thanksgiving. The lesson here is that Parker decided the direction of the election long before Locke could ever take control of the situation.
This created the environment where Locke had to play catch up and keep up with Parker. Locke would never be able to dictate the agenda and this hurt him badly.
At times, Locke appeared so desperate to deliver a knockout punch that he threw many swings but never landed. He attempted to make Parker "soft" on crime but Parker was able to address that issue and reminded voters that she earned the endorsement of multiple police unions.
Locke then tried to make Parker seem like she had failed to tell the City of Houston the real financial state of the budget, but Parker was able to make it seem like it was Locke who simply did not understand the situation.
The Dynamo stadium issue was another flop. He pushed the idea that Parker was against a new soccer stadium -- and many voters ended up supporting her because of that reason. In reality, Parker noted that she was not against building a stadium for the Dynamo; she was just against using taxpayer funds to subsidize the cost. Parker relayed to voters that the City of Houston had done their part of the deal and they were just waiting on Harris County and the Dynamo to fulfill their part.
Locke lacked a coherent message that would resonate with Houstonians. It did not help that he mismanaged many campaign decisions. A few months after setting up shop, Locke cleaned house and hired a new team that seemed capable of delivering, at least on paper.
The worst move came when Locke fired Sue Walden shortly after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Parker took advantage of the faux pas and hired Walden within a week.
Locke's communications team failed to deliver time after time. When Roy Morales asked Locke to participate in a mailer where it was understood that they had to pay their share of the costs, Morales stated that Locke "refused" to participate. Even after Kim Devlin, Locke's communications director, attempted to correct the misunderstanding and explain what happened, it was too late. This did not sit well with potential conservative voters who entertaining the idea of voting for Locke.
Then there was the Stephen Hotze endorsement that backfired on Locke. When rumors began circulating that Locke was seeking the endorsement of Hotze the Locke campaign denied it. The Houston Chronicle confirmed the meeting and Hotze himself admitted to it; this made the Locke campaign backtrack and change their position.
Hotze ended up endorsing Locke, who accepted the support whole-heartedly. Parker jumped on this endorsement and tainted it. Locke failed to understand the damage he had inflicted on himself by not refusing Hotze's endorsement. Before he knew it, Locke had alienated himself from conservative voters and white liberal progressive voters.
Behind the scenes on the Internet, the story was not that much different. Locke failed to create an online presence that rivaled Parker on Twitter and Facebook. Anyone that participated in those social networks would have quickly realized that it was one-sided.
The reason it was one-sided was because the Locke campaign lacked a genuine blogger coalition. In mid-July, the Parker began organizing a blogger coalition to spread campaign news after the mainstream media failed to take interest in the election.
This small coalition of bloggers created a lot of buzz and analysis for potential voters to pass around on Twitter and Facebook. Parker was slowly building her base that would live on the Internet.
Locke never took advantage of this new communication tool and by the time the runoff election rolled around, it was bloggers who were digging up the dirt on the candidates.
It was a blogger that broke the story that Locke was a lobbyist. It was a blogger that reported on the Hotze-Locke connection. It was bloggers that reported that Dave Wilson had donated money to Locke.
The list goes on and on but at the end of the day, there was no blogger coalition to fight back for Locke. In fact, the Locke campaign made the mistake of creating fake accounts on Twitter to attempt to inflate their online clout.
Locke might have had the support of prominent politicians, former mayors and unions but he was not able to build a base around those pros.
Locke lost because he was not able to connect with the voters that he was courting. Some claim that Locke was the victim of racism. This is a ridiculous notion. Locke had 80 percent of the African-American vote. He was only able to obtain about 35 percent of the Anglo-American vote. Forty percent of Latinos went to Locke.
Are we to assume that African-Americans did not vote by race? Why is it that when numbers reflect anything but a split that racism is involved?
The reason why Locke did not garner more of the Anglo vote is perhaps because he failed to obtain it. He did not do a terrific job at courting conservatives and liberals and this is the reason why the Anglo vote did not favor him.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Conservatives also failed to show up on his behalf. Locke's strategy to actively court them was not forgiven by progressive liberals that sided with Parker.
Apply everything else stated and you have created a perfect recipe for disaster. Locke never had control of his campaign and his advisers ran his campaign into the ground. Parker was a veteran to campaigns and understood what it took to win. She had name recognition and developed early on a strategy to win. She did not make her sexual orientation an issue and stayed on message.
When compared to the way Locke ran his campaign, it should not be a surprise that he did not win. He failed to execute even though the stars were aligned in his favor. He was never able to "Locke the Vote" and when the polls closed...he was not the chosen one.