How Steve Stockman Pioneered the Uncampaign

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) easily topped the 50-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff in Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary. Two years after tea party activists helped send Ted Cruz to Washington, Cornyn escaped unscathed, and will almost certainly win another term in November. Heading into the primary, the only real drama was whether his opponent, Rep. Steve Stockman, would even vote for himself—Stockman hasn’t voted in a GOP primary election since 2004, which includes both the preliminary and runoff elections in his victorious 2012 campaign.

The Stockman campaign defied convention, often spectacularly so. He made what the Dallas Morning News called a “rare public appearance” on January 14, and then he disappeared. He wasn’t seen for days, during which time he missed 17 consecutive votes and his House office refused to say where he was. Then his staff switched gears, revealing that he had been in Russia, Egypt, and Israel and chiding American reporters for not paying attention to a press conference he’d held overseas. He came back in time for the State of the Union, only to theatrically storm out midway through.

His campaign office was literally condemned. His staff, such as it was, refused to alert reporters to upcoming public events, which may have been because there weren’t any. Seriously—try to find any record that he held one in the last two months. The closest thing to a Stockman campaign effort was a fake newspaper, sent to conservative mail boxes, which quoted Stockman’s campaign literature about Cornyn verbatim, but which the Stockman campaign claimed it had nothing to do with. He filed a libel lawsuit against a pro-Cornyn PAC for alleging he had been jail and charged with a felony for drug possession, despite admitting in 1995 to these allegations in an interview. And he just cold stopped filing campaign finance reports. He raised virtually no money, nor is it clear what, if anything, his campaign spent its cash on. He didn’t run any TV ads. He claimed he had been endorsed by the Tea Party Patriots, when the group had done nothing of the sort.

But the amazing thing about Stockman isn’t his total refusal to campaign—it’s that this is the first time this strategy has failed him. Consider this Houston Chronicle story from 2012:

Steve Stockman, 55, who served one term in Congress in the 1990s, spurns most public events and candidate forums and rarely talks to news media. Instead, he has blanketed the East Texas district with fake tabloid newspapers emblazoned with such headlines as “[Republican rival] Stephen Takach drove family friend into bankruptcy,” “Gunowners Furious as Takach sides with ‘gun grabbers'” (Sheila Jackson Lee, Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi) and “Takach smears Stockman for taking care of his Alzheimer’s-stricken father.”

Sound familiar? Stockman beat Takach. And he went on to win the general election by 44 points, operating out of a garage. He used the same newspaper strategy when he was elected to the House in 1994, too—though he also denied involvement at the time, even though it was being printed at his home address.

Stockman will leave behind no political legacy, unless you were one of the lucky few to receive an “If Babies Had Guns They Wouldn’t Be Aborted” bumper sticker. If you were one of a handful of Texans who donated to his campaign, you would have been better served lighting your money on fire. But he was, nonetheless, a trailblazer. We salute you, Steve Stockman, pioneer of the uncampaign.

 

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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