Dead Squirrels, Kids with Guns and Chuck Norris: The 2016 Texas Primary Field, in Photos

Does she think my tractor's electable?

Plano state Representative Jeff Leach dragged a couch into the forest. Tom Oliverson, the aspiring District 130 rep, fired up his ice cream truck. And Democrat and District 144 hopeful Bernie Aldape outgunned the entirety of the Texas GOP field with a single tank.

No, not in their wildest political dreams, but in their campaign photos — those carefully crafted (except when they aren’t) little aesthetic missiles meant to strike voters straight in their malleable little hearts.

Republicans were more likely to pose with guns than Democrats, but aspiring District 144 Dem Bernie Aldape outgunned 'em all with this tank.
Republicans were more likely to pose with guns than Democrats, but aspiring House District 144 Democrat Bernie Aldape outgunned ’em all with this tank.

In a remarkable feat of data-driven masochism, I, along with a team of cheerfully powerless interns, aggregated every campaign photo of every candidate actively running for the Texas Legislature this year into a single unwieldy Google Doc that keeps crashing my computer. We pulled an image, or in many cases, images, from every challenged incumbent, every challenger and every retiree-replacement hopeful in the House and the Senate.

It was a mistake. It took forever. We’re honestly sorry we even tried. But we persevered, and now we know, for example, that aspiring reps and senators in this year’s Texas primary are twice as likely to have their photograph made outdoors than in. I know, I know. With that kind of tantalizing tidbit, I’ll be turning down cocktail invitations until one of Michael Quinn Sullivan’s minions — who photograph pretty well, by the way — finally ousts Joe Straus from the House speakership.

Really any kid will do for a campaign photo, but getting 'em when they're no bigger than a cowboy hat adds a great deal of charm.
Really any kid will do for a campaign photo, but getting ’em when they’re no bigger than a cowboy hat adds a great deal of charm.

The basics: we analyzed 464 photos from 198 candidates. We didn’t pull photos from incumbents who aren’t being challenged. We only pulled relatively recent (or, recently used) and prominently featured photos — stuff like Facebook profile and header photos, images from “About Me” pages, posed personality shots, centerpiece photography for flyers and websites, that kind of thing.

Candidates included 13 dogs in their campaign photos.
Candidates included 13 dogs in their campaign photos, though we almost missed the little guy trailing Republican David Watts and his family down this scenic path. Watts’ boots-and-hat combo score him an important trifecta.

That meant some candidates, such as the undeniably photogenic Dawn Buckingham, ended up contributing more to our little cache than others — like, for example, Dr. Osbert Rodriguez Haro III, whose campaign aesthetic consists of a what appears to be a passport photo and a single rendering of Jesus Christ, or Al Zolli, who is going for that YouTube-and-Dr. Evil vibe.

Dawn Buckingham, renaissance Republican.
Dawn Buckingham, renaissance Republican.

Rick Perry, that dude who used to live in the governor’s mansion before he developed expertise in dropping out of presidential races, figures prominently in the visual landscape of just three candidates, and — perhaps surprisingly, once you think about it — Chuck Norris only turns up once, on Gary VanDeaver’s Facebook page.

Does the District 41 incumbent, Democrat Bobby Guerra, have his seat firmly by the reins?
Does the District 41 incumbent, Democrat Bobby Guerra, have his seat firmly by the reins?

Even though we all of us are former fetuses, Jason Villalba’s the only guy gaming for votes with the help of a fetus-focused action shot, and no one even came close to out-kidding Terry Canales, whose official campaign site slideshow opens with a photograph of the South Texas rep and probably 150 or so schoolchildren sporting Cat in the Hat hats. On the gastronomical side of things, only one candidate, long-time Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., has visually proclaimed his perhaps controversial support for sheet cake — twice. Not to be outdone, Jose Menendez secured the endorsement of this box of bananas.

But what you really wanna know is, How many guns are these here aspiring politicians packing, so’s we know we’re not about to elect a bunch of freedom-hatin’ weenies? How many of their kids are packing heat, and how many are freedom-hatin’ weenies? Fewer than you might think, really, but apparently the children of District 18 know their way around a weapon.

Kids! Guns! The Texas way!
Kevin Downing aims to grab that House District 60 seat. Or maybe this little girl does.
Kids! Guns! The Texas way.
Ernest Bailes and these little buckaroos could shoot down their District 18 opponents' hopes of winning.
Kids! Guns! The Texas way.
Wesley Hinch, gunning for House District 18.

Which of these liberty-loving public servants looks the best in a Lone Star flag shirt? And for Gerg’s sake, how many cows got roped into a campaign photo shoot? (Six. Six cows. Mostly in Kyle Kacal’s district.)

  • Campaign photos prominently featuring the Texas Capitol: 25.
  • Children, not including that photo of Terry Canales with all the kids in Cat in the Hat hats: 226.
  • Children, including that photo of Terry Canales with all the kids in Cat in the Hat hats: approximately 376.
  • Kids and firearms, together: four.
  • Total firearms: 29.
  • Most firearms in one photograph: 14. (We think.)
  • Dead squirrels: six. (All courtesy of the Ernest Bailes family.)
  • Churches, pairs of cowboy boots and bales of hay: four apiece.
  • Number of candidates who, for an undetermined length of time, used a photo of another candidate as their primary Facebook photo: one. (Brent Graves, who on January 18 appeared to be Mike Lang.)
  • Cowboy hats: 23.
  • Crossed-arm candidates-with-attitude shots: 23. (Best look goes to Chris Henderson for District 27.)
  • Tractors: two.
  • Horses: five.
  • Dogs: 13.
  • Posed photos of candidates discussing non-specific construction plans with men in hard hats: two.
  • Gonzales battle flags: one.
  • Unidentified constituents: 64.
  • American flags: 10.
  • Texas flags: 16.
  • Texas flags not in flag form, such as on items of clothing worn by Debbie Riddle and her husband: two.

Below, a gallery of some of the staff-favorite campaign shots:

Only a handful of candidates, including Democrat and District 49 hopeful Blake Rocap, pictured here with the fam at Austin's Mount Bonnell, chose to incorporate recognizable local geography into their aesthetic.
Only a handful of candidates, including Democrat and District 49 hopeful Blake Rocap, pictured here with the fam at Austin's Mount Bonnell, chose to incorporate recognizable local geography into their aesthetic.
Guns: an important part of any campaign aesthetic, as Republican Marsha Farney well knows.
Guns: an integral part of any campaign aesthetic, as Republican Marsha Farney well knows.
The formidable Riddles.
The formidable Riddles.
Few candidates opted for a traditional portrait, but this vintage-tinted shot of Chris Hernandez, a Democrat running for House District 126, stands out as a fine example of the form.
Few candidates opted for a traditional portrait, but this vintage-tinted shot of Chris Hernandez, a Democrat running for House District 126, stands out as a fine example of the form.
Kids love Tom Oliverson, too! Or maybe it's just the ice cream.
Kids love Tom Oliverson, too! Or maybe it's just the ice cream.
When candidates couldn't make it to the actual Capitol, they brought the Capitol to them through the magic of Photoshop technology.
When candidates couldn't make it to the actual Capitol, they brought the Capitol to them through the magic of Photoshop technology.
Bill Zedler: for limited government, and maximum autumnal tones.
Bill Zedler: for limited government, and maximum autumnal tones.
terry canales with millions of kids
District 40 Dem Terry Canales is not kidding around with all these kiddos.
Say, friend... she thinks my tractor's sexy, but does she find me electable?
Say, friend... she thinks my tractor's sexy, but does she find me electable?
See y’all at the polls! And don’t let those dead squirrels distract you from the real issues.

Andrea Grimes, a native Texan and avid twitterer, is the digital editor at the Observer.

Published at 9:00 am CST
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