powered by FreeFind

Apple iTunes


Commercial-free Kunkle vs. ad-supported Rawlings: a closing look

Images from the candidate websites of David Kunkle, Mike Rawlings.

Imagine running for mayor of New York, Chicago or Los Angeles without running a single television commercial.

Let alone winning that election.

With just a half-week remaining until the Saturday, June 18th judgment day, former Dallas police chief David Kunkle still hasn't run any TV ads and has no plans to do so.

Opponent Mike Rawlings isn't buying that strategy. Instead he bought a blitz of campaign commercials before the May 14h run-off election, in which he topped the field with 41 percent of the vote to Kunkle's 32 percent. And in the period since then, it's hard to miss an omnipresent Rawlings spot in which he combines endorsements from The Dallas Morning News and sainted former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, who urges viewers to vote for "my friend."

So shouldn't Kunkle at least fly the flag? This question was first posed in a May 5th post. At the time, both Rawlings and eventual third-place run-off finisher Ron Natinsky were running TV ads while the former Dallas police chief continued to campaign on the strength of yard signs, mayoral forums and name recognition.

In a recent telephone interview, Kunkle and his wife, former CBS11 reporter Sarah Dodd, said that their strategy so far had worked, even though Rawlings won the first skirmish by a fairly comfy margin.

"I didn't think their TV stuff was, frankly, very good. That was part of the issue," Kunkle said of his opponents' commercials. If he could have "knocked one out of the park" with a television commercial, he might have used some of his limited campaign funds to do so, Kunkle said.

Dodd noted that her husband "was on the 6 and 10 o'clock news every night for six years. People were already familiar with his work as police chief. So for him it wasn't as necessary to go on TV with commercials."

Kunkle raised $180,000 for the run-off election, a pittance compared to the campaign war chest of Rawlings, a former Pizza Hut CEO whose name recognition was next to nil when he announced his mayoral candidacy. So Rawlings piled it on with a series of TV ads aimed at making him at least something of a household name with the electorate.

Did both strategies work? For the most part, yes. Rawlings spent big money on his getting-to-know-me TV campaign. Kunkle already had name recognition in the bank, so he stayed away from the TV ad game. Not that he could afford to play much of a hand. Both candidates survived the May 14th run-off as anticipated.

The month since hasn't exactly been spine-tingling in the realm of big-city mayoral elections. Turnout is likely to be minimal at best this Saturday, with Rawlings and Kunkle primarily hoping to grab the lion's share of the 25 percent of the vote that Dallas City Councilman Natinsky tallied. For what it's worth, Natinsky has endorsed Rawlings.

D-FW's major TV stations of course would have welcomed Kunkle's money. Instead they're getting nothing from him, but ample TV ad dough from Irving mayor Herbert Gears, who's been running virtually nothing but attack ads in his re-election campaign. His general election opponent, ex-councilwoman Beth Van Duyne, has responded with her own TV ad defense, branding Gears a shady back-door dealer.

It does seem odd. The battle to become mayor of comparatively dinky Irving is being fought in large part with TV commercials while the Dallas race has just one paying customer.

Should Kunkle pull this off, though, he'd be winning the old-school "retail" way, via yard signs, personal appearances and a trust factor established during his six years as police chief. People still carp about well-heeled candidates trying to "buy" elections with paid TV blitzes. Well, Kunkle certainly isn't doing that.

This doesn't mean that Rawlings is doing it the wrong way. TV ads were virtually the only way for him to build significant name recognition. He's got most of the big Dallas moneybags behind him, plus The Dallas Morning News. But without all those commercials, he'd still be Mike Whatsisname. Not that most Dallas residents of voting age seem to care one way or the other who their next mayor is.

Your friendly content provider lives in adjacent Garland. So there's no vote coming from these quarters. As a longtime TV writer, though, I'm interested in whether a candidate can prevail in a modern-day big-city race without spending a penny on TV ads. If Kunkle wins, his campaign easily could be turned into a college course on the value of paid media vs. built-in name recognition.

Should he lose by a close margin, though, Kunkle might end up asking himself why he didn't re-introduce himself to voters down the homestretch. The best way to do that would be with a short burst of TV ads that essentially say, "Hi, I'm David Kunkle." And so on.

Barring a very unlikely eleventh hour shift in strategy, that's just not going to happen. May the best candidate win -- before any recriminations begin.