HOWDY, PARTNER: Kinky Friedman’s ads have made him a popular Texas candidate.
The problem with gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos’s television spots is, they’re not kinky enough.
Kinky Friedman enough, that is. Friedman, who’s running as an independent in the Texas gubernatorial race, is the long-time bandleader of Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys, as well as the author of 17 mystery novels starring himself.
(Representative sample: “Cats, country music, and cigars have become the three spiritual linchpins of my life. Actually, I have a few other spiritual linchpins and they also begin with a “c,” but we won’t go into that now.”)
Friedman and Mihos have both hired the legendary Bill Hillsman to produce their advertising. To all appearances Friedman, as he might phrase it, has gotten the gold while Mihos has gotten the shaft.
Hillsman’s North Woods Advertising created the breakthrough and hilarious Paul Wellstone “Looking for Rudy” commercials in 1990. Eight years later it produced the advertising for Jesse “The Body Politic” Ventura’s long-shot gubernatorial victory in Minnesota. This year the Kinkster is Hillsman’s official Dark Horse darling.
Friedman’s TV spots, which he wrote and Hillsman produced, are beautiful, bucolic ruminations on the Lone Star state of mind. One, titled “Cowboy Way,” shows Friedman wandering about his Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch while he narrates: “Folks, when a cowboy shakes your hand, it’s the law of the land. Cowboy doesn’t talk about education, he teaches. Cowboy doesn’t talk about religion, he lives it.”
Another commercial has Friedman saying on-camera, “Look, I’m 61 years old — too young for Medicare, too old for women to care.” His Web site also includes a series of thoroughly engaging Kinkytoons, as well as a Kinky Talking Action Figure — On Sale $20! Save 33%! — that says 25 different things, such as “I can’t screw things up any more than they already are.” (Ventura also had action figure action in his campaign.)
In other words, Kinky is a certified gubernatorial character. Weekly Standard reporter Matt Labash, who tagged along with Friedman on the campaign trail for a spell, related this anecdote:
“Watching his rapport with people, who mob him everywhere we go, I offer that he gives people ‘happiness injections.’ He mulls it over. ‘Happiness injections — that’s a good line,’ he says. ‘Take it,’ I offer. ‘Ehh,’ he says, having second thoughts, ‘It’s kind of gay.’ ”
To be sure, Christy Mihos is no Kinky Friedman. (Of course, neither was Paul Wellstone.) Even so, Mihos has turned out to be less of a character than a caricature. For starters, his Web site is wacky without being quirky, jokey without being funny — the very opposite of Friedman’s site.
More to the point, Mihos’s ad campaign has been largely pedestrian, looking for all the world like commercials for . . . a convenience store owner (which, of course, he is). Outside of his chiropractically challenged cartoon ad with various Big Dig bureaucrats’ heads up their respective butts, the spots have a distinctly — you’ll excuse the expression — 7-Eleven feel to them.
HEADS UP: Independent Christy Mihos’s ads make him look like a cartoon.
“I’m Christy Mihos, and I’m going all over Massachusetts telling everybody about Proposition One,” he says at the start of a typical TV spot. Prop One — which is actually a figment of Mihos’s imagination — is all about returning more state-tax revenues to local communities. “That’s over twenty-one million more for Chicopee,” Mihos says in the ad. “Another six million for Amherst; thirty-two million more for Holyoke.” Call it government by gift with purchase.
But the electorate’s affection doesn’t come that cheap. A Boston Globe/CBS4 poll from late October had Mihos ranking third in the “Which candidate has the most effective television ads?” category, behind Deval Patrick’s Fog Machine commercials and Kerry Healey’s Freddy Krueger spots. That’s just wrong, if Bill Hillsman is your ad guy.
For someone who’s been an absolute chatterbox throughout this race, Mihos — or at least his campaign — is uncharacteristically mum about this topic. Asked about the advertising, Mihos mouthpiece Nicole Nionakis said, “I’m not gonna be able to comment on the specifics of our ad strategy.” Nionakis did say she was aware of Hillsman’s other work this year, but declined to compare any of it to Mihos’s ads. “I’d have to review it more closely,” she said.
And what about the biggest question of all: why is there no Christy Talking Action Figure? “Because we decided not to use one,” Nionakis said.
For Christy’s sake! The guy actually has retail outlets where he could sell the things! That’s more than Ventura or Friedman could say. Plus, Mihos was born to be a talking action figure. Wasn’t he?
Not so much, according to Hillsman. “It made so much sense for Kinky Friedman. It was just an excuse to get 25 of his one-liners out there.” On the other hand, “there’s no need for a Christy Mihos Action Figure.”