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Death and Taxes How Jim Mattox Beat the Odds And Won the Campaign Image War BY ALLAN FREEDMAN 0 N MARCH 13. at exactly 10 p.m., Jim Mattox was smiling. Former Governor Mark White had already conceded. Mattox had once again defied the pundits and the politicos who had counted him out. He now faced a runoff election with Ann Richards. The macho man of Democratic politics glowed with boyish excitement. “Is it too early to declare victory?” Mattox asked his cheering supporters at a primary night Austin victory party. “No,” the crowd answered in a loud refrain. His voice rose as he spoke about taking on the insurance companies, the banks, and the utilities. As the crowd grew silent, and Mattox’s voice more resolute, he talked of his message on behalf of the people who have been “beat up and beat on.” Then, his voice soaked with emotion, he closed on a personal note. “Probably the greatest regret I have in my life is that my momma can’t be here with me. My momma passed away in 1970. She was 51 years of age. I’m 46. I may not have a long time. But I’ve got a lot to do.” For a few minutes, Mattox exposed his softer and more thoughtful side. He was compassionate and inspirational. Only briefly did he mention his support for a lottery and his opposition to an income tax. And not once did he mention the death penalty. The twin themes of his campaign death and taxes were overshadowed by the heartfelt populist rhetoric of a crusading reformer. But only for a moment. Indeed, during the primary, Mattox was the man with the prodeath/no-new-taxes message and the money to sell it. Consider these numbers. According to a Dallas Morning News poll published September 17, Mattox had just 8 percent of the vote, White had 23 percent, and Richards had 36 percent. In the primary, Richards received 39 percent of the vote, Mattox captured 37 percent, and White finished a distant third with 19 percent. Back in September, Dallas Morning News poll director Richard Murray said: “Mattox just has no base of support anywhere.” Clearly, Murray was proven wrong. 111 T IS A testament to the power of money in politics that Mattox used the deathpenalty and no-income-tax issues so ef fectively. “Lottery Yes, Income Tax No” was a ubiquitous refrain. He boasted early and often in the campaign of the number of convicted murderers who were executed while he served as attorney general. In the death penalty, Mattox was able to further his hard-nosed image and was successful in attracting the attention and votes of a conservative Democratic constituency. The attorney general ran strongly in more conservative rural districts while Richards counted her base in more liberal urban areas. On the issue of capital punishment, he was even able to outflank White, his chief rival for the party’s bubba vote. White entered the race with high negatives. This was a governor who had raised “Democrats have been frightened away from the image of liberalisim.” taxes. He was defeated by Clements in 1986, and White needed an emotional issue that could help him transcend a record that was sure to hurt his candidacy. White thought he had discovered deliverance in the death penalty. His 30-second death penalty advertisements were grim and to the point. “These hardened criminals will never again murder, rape, or deal drugs,” White says as he stands next to drawings of the murderers in question. “As governor, I made sure they received the ultimate punishment death and Texas is a safer place for it.” Will Saletan, editor of The Hotline, a national daily political news service, says White’s strategy was similar to that of current Florida Republican Governor Bob Martinez. Like White, Martinez has high negatives and is using the death penalty in his current re-election bid to persuade voters to forget his misdeeds. Does the text of this Martinez commercial featuring footage of serial killer Ted Bundy seem familiar? most serious things that I have to address everyday is the whole issue of the death penalty,” Martinez says. “I now have signed some 90 death warrants in the state of Florida. Each one of those committed a heinous crime that I don’t even choose to describe to you.” , Says Saletan: “In the case of Mark White, the emotional appeal of the death penalty serves to drive out of the voters’ consciousness why they got rid of Mark White in the first place, issues of taxes, economics.” Douglas Schoen, a New York-based pollster who advised White, concedes the obvious. Impact in political advertising is defined in large part by repetition. Schoen said the White death-penalty ad was shown too few times to advance the former governor into the runoff. “We weren’t able to make the case that he was a sufficiently good governor, that he deserved re-election,” he says. “Jim Mattox had stolen the issue.” White’s support in the polls did increase after he began to run the execution ad. But he appeared to drop in the final week of the campaign because of Richards-campaign attacks that claimed he used his public position for private gain. That charge surfaced repeatedly in Richards’s ads in the final seven days of the campaign. “The Mark White pro-tax thing, that he raised taxes, was something that hurt him badly,” Schoen says. “The Mark White lining his pockets [advertisement] hurt him badly.” Mattox used the death penalty for different reasons; he cemented his reputation as a crime fighter. The Mattox death-penalty commercials were also considered less offensive than White’s among minority voters. Many black and Hispanic voters felt the White commercials in particular were aimed at a conservative, white constituency since minorities are represented in disproportionate numbers on death row. Mattox diluted his pro-death message. The lottery/no-taxes stance was more high-profile, for instance, and some believe the more potent message of the Mattox campaign. Unlike White, Mattox had other issues in his arsenal and avoided being identified exclusively with the death penalty. “The White commercial was much more direct, and it got through to black voters,” says Bob Squier, a Richards media consultant. Mattox was also able to use the death penalty issue against Richards, or so 6 APRIL 6, 1990