Despite "best campaign ad ever," Travis County commissioner race still a toss-up

His campaign ad has been watched millions of times, but Republican Gerald Daugherty's re-election bid is anything but certain.

To help his re-election campaign, Republican Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty released an ad last month starring himself and his wife, Charlyn.

The humorous ad, in which Charlyn urges voters to re-elect her husband to get him out of the house, was an almost instant viral smash. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough hailed it as the “best campaign ad ever.” As of Wednesday, it sits with 3.5 million views on Youtube and counting.

But despite the ad’s near-universal popularity, Daugherty still faces a challenge: getting re-elected in a typically Democratic county amid scrutiny of his party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump. 

“You’ll always have a close race when you’re in Travis County and you have an ‘R’ by your name. Period," Daugherty said. "I certainly hope [Trump doesn’t have] a big negative effect. But let’s face it: There have been things said by Trump that makes people, regardless of party affiliation, go, ‘Wow.’”

Following the release of a 2005 clip where Trump is heard speaking lewdly about women, the real estate mogul is seeking to regain his foothold in the typically red Lone Star state. With recent polls finding Trump’s lead in Texas shrinking, some Republicans are worried about the impact on down-ballot races.

Daugherty's Precinct 3 in Travis County has historically been a toss-up. In 2002 and 2004, Daugherty won the precinct by a small margin. He then lost the seat to a Democrat in 2008 as an influx of voters in Travis County voted for Barack Obama. After winning the seat back in 2012, Daugherty easily won this year's Republican primary in March with 71 percent of the vote.

David Holmes, Daugherty’s Democratic challenger, said he’s hopeful that having Trump at the top of the ballot will help Democrats in races such as his.

“There’s some people who are going to show up [to the polls] just for Trump,” Holmes said. “But there are others who maybe normally vote straight-ticket who might not this time because they can’t bring themselves to vote for Trump.”

Chad Crow, Daugherty's campaign consultant who helped produce the ad, acknowledged that the race is still close.

"When over half of the electorate are pulling the straight-ticket lever, walking out and never looking at a single name on the ballot, the demographics of your district are going to determine how close, or not close, the race is going to be regardless of how strong or weak an individual’s campaign happens to be," Crow said. "This race is a great example of that fact.”

Recently, Holmes has made a campaign issue of how Daugherty plans to vote in the presidential race. At a candidate forum in September, Daugherty said he he was “proud to support Donald Trump.” But in an interview Tuesday on Hardball with Chris Matthews, he said he was now an undecided voter.

“Gerald flipped and flopped like a fish out of water when he was asked about Donald Trump on Hardball, and it was uncomfortable to watch,” Holmes said in a statement Tuesday. “This is the third time that Mr. Daugherty has waffled on his support of Donald Trump and he needs to let us know the kind of person he is.”

Daugherty told the Tribune he is still supporting his party’s presidential nominee while recognizing that “there are things about Trump that make [him] squirm.” Despite some instances where Trump has made him uncomfortable, he said there are a number of issues where he thinks Trump is “spot on.”

Despite a potential Trump effect, Daugherty still thinks he can win re-election because voters understand that, like his wife says in his ad, he likes getting things done.

“The thing I’ve tried to concentrate on mostly is telling folks, 'Hey, you’ve really got to get this thing right for your local elected officials because your local officials affect you much more than the top of the ticket,'" Daugherty said. "You’ve got to go down and vote all the way through the ballot.”

Even Holmes said he was impressed by Daugherty’s ad — but that he wasn’t sure if its popularity would outweigh Trump’s impact. He noted that the ad could benefit both him and his opponent. Since its release, traffic on his own website and social media have skyrocketed, he said.

“I think that people think more critically than to be swayed only by that ad,” Holmes said. “I think they’ll look at that ad and see Gerald’s stance on issues and then go see my stances. I think people are more sophisticated in the way they decide where their vote is going to go.”

Read more of our election coverage:

  • Texas teachers are finding plenty of lessons for students in the 2016 presidential election, but discussing some of the racier news requires a careful approach. 
  • A since-deleted tweet sent from Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller's account used an obscene term to describe Hillary Clinton. Miller's staff claimed he had been hacked, then apologized for a mistaken retweet.
  • Endangered Republican lawmakers in Texas have strengthened their financial footing with just over a week until Election Day, according to campaign finance reports released Monday.