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Travis County star of “best campaign ad ever” wins re-election

Republican Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty won re-election Tuesday, no small feat in the heavily Democratic county.

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Though by a small margin, a Republican Travis County Commissioner whose engaging campaign ad drew international attention won re-election Tuesday, a sliver of GOP success in an otherwise blue Texas county.

Voters returned Gerald Daugherty to his Precinct 3 commissioner's seat — a large feat for a candidate trying to distance himself from the impact President-elect Donald Trump had on down-ballot races. 

Daugherty and his wife, Charlyn, starred in a viral campaign ad released last month. The ad broke 9 million views as of Wednesday night, was featured on almost every major cable network and was covered on all but one continent, according to Daugherty’s campaign consultants. 

And according to Daugherty, the ad may have been a driving force in helping him win the election with about 52 percent of the vote.

“Let’s put it this way,” Daugherty said in an interview with The Texas Tribune Thursday. “The ad certainly didn’t hurt.” 

Daugherty's precinct is typically a toss-up. In 2002 and 2004, Daugherty won by a small margin, but he lost the seat in 2008 after an influx of Democratic voters in Travis County voted for Barack Obama. In 2012, Daugherty won the seat back, and then easily won this year's Republican primary in March with 71 percent of the vote.

Prior to Tuesday’s election, many Texas Republicans were worried about Trump’s impact on down-ballot races, especially in Democratic strongholds like Travis County, home of Austin. 

“The factor in this [election] was Trump," Daugherty said. "Charlyn and I talked about it and I said, ‘Honey, if I get beat, I’m going to get beat not by something that I haven’t done but by something I had nothing to do with, and that is if we have a controversial figure at the top of the ticket.’”

His victory came from ticket splitters in a county where about 150,000 people usually vote along straight-party lines. Daugherty won the non-straight-party vote over his opponent by more than 12,000 votes. 

In Travis County, Trump lost to Clinton by almost 18 percent, meaning Daugherty outpolled the top of the Republican ticket by more than 21 percent. 

“It is almost unheard of for a bottom-of-the-ballot candidate to overcome landslide defeats of the top of the ticket in their party,” said Chad Crow, Daugherty's campaign consultant who helped produce the ad. “Occasionally, you will see a congressman or a senator do it by a few percentage points, but almost never a courthouse-level candidate and certainly not those kinds of margins.” 

Even David Holmes, Daugherty’s Democratic challenger, said the ad was refreshing during a contentious time.

“When you look at how close the race was, I think [the ad] had to have a pretty powerful effect,” Holmes said. “With the ad, combined with ... Gerald having been in office for 10 years and the greater amount of money he raised, [Gerald] had every advantage.” Holmes acknowledged, however, that “it’s really hard to know if there are people who voted for him just because of that ad.”

Despite the ad’s popularity, Daugherty maintained that what ultimately helped him get re-elected was his familiarity with his county and constituents.

“I’ve been in this community, and longtime relationships, most of the time, are more important than party affiliation,” Daugherty said. 

Crow said he agreed, and added that Daugherty’s reputation among voters was a major factor behind the win.

“I think it took everything that Gerald has ever done in his adult life in Travis County, both in and out of office, to make [the win] happen,” Crow said. “Because on paper we should have lost, plain and simple, and any other Republican certainly would have.”

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