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Kunkle goes au naturel in a mayoral campaign stripped of any TV ads by the former Dallas police chief

Mayoral candidates Ron Natinsky, Mike Rawlings, David Kunkle.

This is the fifth-largest media market in the country. So can you get elected mayor of Dallas without airing a single television commercial?

Former Dallas police chief David Kunkle hasn't yet spent a nickel on TV ads and has no plans to do so before the May 14th election, his campaign confirms.

In contrast, opponent Mike Rawlings is all over the air waves. His latest TV spot is an endorsement from canonized former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, who says at the end, "He's a great leader we can trust."

Even Ron Natinsky, the longshot of the three principal candidates, has ponied up some TV money in hopes of upping his name recognition . "I started my first business selling eight-track tapes," he said, brandishing a couple of them in a commercial that began running last month. The kicker: "I'm not about to raise taxes. That's just bad for business."

Kunkle is betting that his name recognition already is off the charts after six years of constant TV exposure as Dallas' top cop. He has no shortage of yard signs throughout the city, which some might see as something of a refreshing throwback to the way candidates used to run before TV stations began collecting big-time money from campaign image-makers.

Still, this seems like a very risky game plan on Kunkle's part. Prospective voters are used to seeing spots run. And without any at all, Kunkle might be perceived as throwing in the towel while Rawlings in particular is running harder than a Kentucky Derby thoroughbred.

This isn't about the quality of any candidates' ads. It's more about the necessities required to survive in the electronic age. Rawlings clearly needed to build up his name recognition in this race. And he definitely appears to have done so while Kunkle basically is saying, "Hey, you already know me and love me."

Flying the flag is important, too, though. Shouldn't Kunkle at least be reminding TV viewers that he stood tall and received mostly very favorable reviews for his performance as Dallas police chief? As the commercials for Rawlings pile up, might the stock be dropping for Kunkle, who hasn't been the city's main man in blue for just over a year now? Is a candidate running a "real" campaign if he or she isn't fronting a TV commercial or two?

There will be a run-off after the May 14th election if none of the candidates gets at least 50 percent of the vote. And if Kunkle survives as one of the two finalists, he might want to re-evaluate his current tack of, in a sense, being above any need to advertise himself on television.

Whatever their strategies, all of the candidates are dreaming if they think that local TV news coverage of their campaigns will be enough to put them further on the map. The best any of them can realistically hope for is perhaps a five-to-10-second "sound bite" from a candidate forum and maybe one "in-depth" two-minute look at their campaigns in general.

In that sense, the electronic age is of no use to Kunkle, Rawlings or Natinsky, because local TV stations mostly consider their activities to be boring. This is particularly true in a May ratings "sweeps" period where CBS11's late night newscast recently spotlighted the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders' exercise regimen while WFAA8 led its 10 p.m. edition with a story on "end-of-the-world" billboards cropping up in D-FW and elsewhere.

For the record, we're all supposedly going to die on May 21st, a week after the mayoral run-off election. So at least Kunkle will get a chance to see whether his total lack of commercial appeals dealt a death blow to his candidacy. On the other hand, maybe Rawlings is just throwing good money after bad. There's a story in there somewhere.