It’s the Name Recognition, Stupid

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The fake-named Felix Culpa, a frequent SanAntoniomizer contributor, wrote the following post partly in response to my masterful analysis of the June 10 runoff election in District 9.]

The local political commentariat was shocked – shocked! – by the election of John Courage as the District 9 city council member. District 9 is on the north-central part of the city; if you were aiming for it, you could use the intersection of Highway 281 and Loop 1604 as crosshairs. It’s an area that’s growing rapidly, and it’s chock full o’ Republicans.

Yet Courage, a well-known Democratic activist (and shopworn political candidate) sailed to a relatively easy victory in his runoff against local economic development official Marco Barros, who did not lack for conservative credentials.

This has the politicos baffled, and grasping for increasingly unlikely explanations. Have the demographics in the district undergone a seismic shift? Did San Antonio swing to the left overnight? Did the cabernet-sipping whities up on the North Side refuse to vote for a guy named “Barros” because they imagined him as a vato, cruising though their neighborhoods in a low-rider Impala?

Jesus, people. I don’t deny that any of those reasons may have played a small role in the election. But for real answers, maybe you should, I don’t know, ask someone who lives there.

I live in District 9, and I was not at all surprised that Courage won. Not because of my ideology (I’ll get to that in a minute) but because of his name recognition, such as it is.

Here’s a story I think is illustrative: In the general election, a jumble of candidates littered the ballot, and I had no idea who most of them were. I did know John Courage’s name – it’s easy to remember, and I recognized him as the token candidate that Democrats offer up from time to time in races (U.S. Congress, state legislature) they know a Republican will win. So I voted for him. And hey, guess what? He made the runoff.

Between the general election and the runoff, I lost track of who Courage was running against. But I didn’t lose track of Courage. He had yard signs all over the place. I’m an old man and I get my exercise by walking 5 miles all over the streets of District 9, and I couldn’t miss the cutesy  signs that read, “Drive Like Your Kids Live Here” with John Courage in smaller type below.

Who was his opponent? I had no idea. If that guy sent campaign info to my house, it didn’t register with me before it hit the recycling bin. If he knocked on doors on my street, it wasn’t when anyone in the Culpa household was home. If he left a door hanger, it blew away.

If he campaigned at all, in fact, that effort was completely lost on me. It shouldn’t have been – I voted in the 2016 Republican primary. My name and voter data were easily accessible. But no one from that side of the race asked me for my vote. Literally until the District 9 runoff ballot popped up on my voting machine, I would not have been able to tell you who John Courage was running against.

I almost didn’t vote in the runoff; I didn’t like either mayoral candidate. But I did think it would be awesome if a liberal were elected in the Trumpistan that is District 9. So I zipped over to Bradley Middle School, where I was greeted by a coterie of perky Courage volunteers. “We’d like to ask for your support of John Courage!” they enthused. “You already have it,” I told them. No one else was there. The other guy in the race, who I wouldn’t have been able to name if you paid me, sent nobody to greet voters on their way into my polling station.

So I fully expected Courage to win. It was very easy to vote for him, even if (as I hinted earlier) I weren’t ideologically predisposed to vote for him anyway.

And boy, was I. When the gentleman whose glowering mug looms over this blog expressed his puzzlement at why Courage won, I offered him my top five reasons. Here they are, verbatim.

  1. Fuck you, Donald Trump.
  2. Gotta balance out having a religious nut as your mayor. Wait, she isn’t winning? Too late.
  3. The poor dumb bastard has been the Dems’ sacrificial goat in so many elections, it’s time he actually won something.
  4. The fact that I can’t remember the name of his opponent tells you something about how the right takes 9 for granted.

Thus: Even if you solve for ideology/protest votes and sympathy votes, name recognition and retail campaigning – not any of the racial, ethnic or other conspiracy theories – accounts for Courage’s “surprise” victory.

At least to me. But what do I know? I just live there.

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