Monday, April 16, 2012

Challenger surging in hotly contested Williamson County DA's race

Grits has no firsthand knowledge of Williamson County District Attorney race, but judging from endorsements and fundraising, incumbent John Bradley appears to be on the ropes in his primary battle against insurgent challenger and current County Attorney Jana Duty. The headline in today's Statesman story on the race calls it "unparalleled in intensity," declaring the race more heated than any election in living memory according to Williamson courthouse watchers.

Police unions remarkably began to line up against Bradley after he had to retract ill-informed, ham-handed comments about civil service at the Cedar Park PD. He said a difference between him and Duty was he opposed them getting it, but Cedar Park voters had already authorized it. (Ironically, this is an issue where my views jibe more closely with Bradley's than the unions'; his ignorance of basic facts, IMO, is a greater indictment of a candidate than the politically incorrect view he expressed criticizing civil service.) In any event, the array of law enforcement interests stepping up to endorse Ms. Duty over the incumbent has grown quite impressive.

The challenger has proven to be a diligent fundraiser and has a substantial lead in that regard, though neither candidate appears to be raising TV money so far, which must be spent in the relatively expensive Austin market:
Duty said in February that she had raised about $113,000, but she has declined to say how much she has raised since.

Duty has a history of successful fundraising. When she ran against an opponent in the 2004 primary, she raised about $47,000, winning with 63 percent of the vote.

By comparison, Bradley raised more than $27,000 for his 2002 primary battle, according to campaign finance reports.

Bradley said last week that he has about $68,000 and expects to raise an additional $10,000 to $20,000 by election day. Bradley has attacked Duty's fundraising, noting that it has come in part from her own staff and from loans to herself, but Duty said she has a broad base of supporters, including residents and attorneys who have left the Bradley camp.
The race is far from over and I'd still give the incumbent a 50/50 chance to remain in office, mainly because of incumbency advantages and because even Duty's greater fundraising totals appear too low to ensure voters all enter the polls understanding what's at stake. Even so, Bradley's reputation has been battered - in some cases thanks to vicissitudes of fate beyond his control, but in most cases as a result of his own missteps and misapplied ambitions - and he'll need more resources than he's projecting he'll have to pay for sufficient communication to overcome it.

The practical reason money matters in elections, and the reason it's often viewed in political and legal circles as almost a proxy for "speech," is that the MSM offers quite poor coverage of most elections, which are treated as in this story more as a horse race than a choice between public policy visions. Not only is campaign coverage poorly structured, it's also infrequent. We might see one more story featuring the race in the Statesman before election day, for example, but likely no more. Most information voters receive about candidates comes from paid advertising. When candidates in third-or-fourth tier races like this one can't afford campaign communication in sufficient volume to actually get voters' attention - be it direct mail, door hangers, radio and TV ads, etc. - voters go to the polls utterly ignorant, as opposed to mostly ignorant, which is a terrific contributor to high reelection rates among incumbents. (Voter attention confoundingly skews toward presidential, senate, congressional and legislative races much more than local contests.) So Duty's fundraising edge matters a great deal, and so does keeping and extending it as the end of the campaign nears. If she actually raised enough money to go on TV with an attack message or deliver several rounds of targeted direct mail, it could drive a stake into the heart of the incumbent. Unless Mr. Bradley somehow pulled a financial rabbit out of his hat, he simply wouldn't have resources to respond.

For those interested, here's Bradley's campaign website (he also has an active Facebook page) and challenger Jana Duty's campaign site.


Ryan Paige said...

I just read that John Bradley has received the endorsement of Mark Norwood.

"No one has done more to keep me out of prison or to denigrate the evidence against me than John Bradley," Norwood said in a prepared statement.

Lee said...

John Bradley is the perfect example of "pride goeth before a fall".

Anonymous said...

If Bradley were to lose, Governor Perry would appoint him to a judgeship. Maybe it's best that he win...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Lee, don't count any chickens just yet. When I worked in the campaign world, it was my position that even (perhaps especially) when your side appears ahead, you never, EVER talk presumptively of an opponent's inevitable demise, just like they don't talk about no-hitters in progress in baseball. In fact, from a purely superstitious perspective, you'd probably better go give Jana Duty a contribution as penance. Like most capricious deities, the electoral gods demand sacrifice.

9:58 writes, "If Bradley were to lose, Governor Perry would appoint him to a judgeship"

That was a serious possibility before the Texas Senate rejected his Forensic Science Commission chairmanship. If that hadn't happened, he'd probably be on the Court of Criminal Appeals today instead of Elsa Alcala, if the capitol rumor-mill buzz had any merit. But unless the Senate makeup changes more than is projected, IMO that's probably off the table. Opposition to his appointment last year was bipartisan.

It is a decent question, however: Where would Bradley end up if he loses? There are slots where he could make even more mischief than at present, or at least mischief less isolated to Williamson. My offhand guess is he wouldn't stick around Williamson County and join the defense bar, but ¿quien sabe?

In all though, if Bradley were to go down - particularly if he's perceived to have gone down over the Morton case - it would go so far toward changing the statewide dialogue on innocence and prosecutor misdconduct issues that it's likely worth the risk. The decision, though is up to Williamson voters.

Anonymous said...

Funny how Duty's campaign facebook has 1395 likes and Bradley has 74.

There I gave 25 bux to Duty's campaign as penance.

Anonymous said...

Complaint against Bradley looms ...