America’s most civil campaign: While U.S. tears itself apart, two candidates refuse to be malicious


It’s been as a small point of light in a U.S. campaign season shrouded in darkness: a viral campaign video for a local election in which an exasperated wife pleads with voters to get , her politics-obsessed husband, out of the house.

“A sweet reminder of the way politicians should be,” reads a typical comment. Millions of others called it a token of cheer in the political “gloom” and, says Star Trek actor George Takei, “some welcome levity.”

But the video is only the beginning. While the United States tears apart in the lead-up to election day, central Texas is hosting a charming campaign between two men who praise each other’s competency, to level personal attacks and will even grab lunch together on occasion.

“When I saw that ad, I sent him a text message saying, ‘Gerald, stop such great ads,’ ” said David , the Democratic opponent to Republican incumbent Gerald Dougherty.

TwitterDavid Holmes

“I said my only problem with that ad was how much you cooked your steak … it was super-well-done.”

The two men are running for commissioner in the third precinct of . Four commissioners govern the county, which has a population of one million and covers almost all the state capital, Austin.

But while liberal Austin has virtually guaranteed three of the seats for the Democrats, and Holmes are fighting over the fourth, which famously swings between blue and red.

“I’ve always got a race, because Travis County is a blueberry in a strawberry patch,” said Daugherty.

Daugherty was first elected commissioner in 2002, but lost in 2008. He narrowly won the seat again in 2012 by a margin of less than two per cent.

This time around, he’s arguing he accomplished all be was elected to do and voters have no reason to throw him out. That is, unless they are “really, really upset.”

Holmes, says he’ll pretty much do what Daugherty is doing — but with a more liberal approach.

TwitterGerald Daugherty

“Gerald often seems to see things only as the , but I think — sometimes, at least — we have to look beyond the and also look at the people,” he said.

Holmes took Daugherty out to dinner soon after deciding to run against him. “I wanted him to hear it from me,” he said.

At public forums, both candidates routinely declare their respect for one another and their agreement on most key issues.

“There are a lot of things Gerald and I agree on, but there’s some things we disagree on,” said Holmes.

Daugherty says trying to keep the campaign positive is itself a political tactic: “It’s pretty hard to give a rebuttal when somebody has just said nice things about you.”

The only real attack ad has been a YouTube video released by the Holmes campaign showing Daugherty seeming to criticize a Texas measure that turned spousal strangulation from a misdemeanor to a felony.

He argued the policy was overfilling jails.

“I don’t think he supports family violence, but I think he sometimes does not think about how the words he uses come across,” said Holmes.

The “Please Re-Elect Gerald” video has now been viewed by millions more people than could ever legally vote in precinct three.


It was produced by KC Strategies, an Austin public relations firm known for its tongue-in-cheek political ads. One series, for instance, mocked an Austin light rail plan through Seinfeldesque stand-up comedy snippets.

The company is “dang creative,” said Daugherty.

At the very least, both candidates said it has brought some attention to an otherwise obscure local election.

Holmes said his most common question at doorsteps is “What does a county commissioner do?” Austin’s daily newspaper, the , didn’t even include the race in its voter guide.

Ultimately, though, this race may be decided by forces beyond either man’s control.

While Daugherty has called himself a supporter of Donald Trump, he is now among the hundreds of county, state and federal Republicans facing unemployment, thanks to the history-making unpopularity of the GOP presidential nominee.

Now, he is asking voters not to ignore every name with an “R” next to it.

“What David has really got going for him is Trump at the top of the Republican ticket,” he said.

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