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Friedman banking on high turnout

Nov. 2, 2006

20061102_kinky
Associated Press
Independent gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman speaks Oct. 26, at the Tarrant Count Elections Center to promote voter turnout and early voting.
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By AARON TURNEY
City editor

Most 62-year-olds celebrate their birthday with a nice evening out with the family or maybe a quiet night at home with a bottle of wine.

Independent candidate Kinky Friedman spent his birthday Wednesday doing radio shows in Houston as he made his final push in the last week before the Texas gubernatorial election.

A slew of radio and TV interviews and appearances are slated for this week, with the most prominent being a spot on the Late Show with David Letterman on Friday.

Friedman's press secretary, Laura Stromberg, said he has presented his agenda to the public and it's now in their hands.

"Kinky's platform is out there and he's been campaigning for 20 months," Stromberg said. "We've conquered every obstacle put before him. We got on the ballot with four times the amount of signatures we needed. The only thing that will keep him from winning is voter turnout."

Friedman's campaign collected 170,258 signatures. Of those signatures, 81 percent were valid.

Mary Duty, McLennan County coordinator for the campaign, said more than 6,000 signatures were collected in McLennan County and surrounding areas and over 90 percent of those were valid. Duty said she has also been organizing the placing of yard signs in the county and estimated 600 to 700 yard signs have been distributed in McLennan County.

Friedman collected more valid signatures than his independent opponent, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who collected 222,514 signatures, but half were declared invalid. Despite gathering more signatures, Friedman came in fourth place in a poll released Saturday by the Houston Chronicle and KHOU-TV at 10.5 percent. Strayhorn received 21 percent and incumbent republican Rick Perry and democrat Chris Bell received 38 and 22 percent, respectively. The telephone survey was conducted by Zogby International and polled 1,003 likely voters. However, Duty said Friedman is appealing to Texans who don't normally vote.

"When they do the polls, it's with the poll of likely voters," she said. "We're counting on a voter who hasn't voted in a while. If turnout is high ... then poll numbers won't mean anything."

But perhaps Friedman's largest obstacle is the fact that people don't take him seriously. Democratic nominee Chris Bell asked Friedman on Oct. 10 to drop out of the governor's race as an independent candidate and run with him to defeat incumbent Rick Perry. Friedman declined his offer, telling the press that the Bell campaign was "desperate and scrambling."

Bell visited Waco on Tuesday and said the issues facing Texans today are not funny and a serious man is needed to fix them. Bell also mentioned Friedman's wardrobe, saying he "dresses up like a cowboy every day."

Addressing the seriousness of his candidacy with The Dallas Morning News on Aug. 17, Friedman said, "just because the other three candidates have had humor bypasses does not mean I have to be a self-important, pompous ass. Besides, some things are too important to be taken seriously."

But the Strayhorn campaign is not considering Friedman a serious threat.

"We're in a solid second and moving up. Bell's done. Kinky's done," Strayhorn Campaign Manager Brad McClellan told reporters Friday.

Stromberg said if voter turnout is low, "Rick Perry will win. We know that."

But she also addressed Texas voter apathy.

"If every Texan had to vote, Kinky would win," Stromberg said. "That's why we're focusing on early voting."

Early voting in Texas ends on Nov. 3.

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Friedman came to Baylor to speak to students on April 26. The event was organized by Baylor Independents, a campus group supporting independent candidates. Baylor Independents President Alex Moorman said the group tried to bring Strayhorn and Friedman to campus for a debate, but unfortunately the event never materialized.

Baylor Independents collected 350 to 400 signatures for Friedman's campaign.

Friedman has also used the Internet to connect with college students before the election. Friedman has 811 friends at the University of Texas, the most of any school in the state, on Facebook.com. He has 170 friends at Baylor. Friedman has 34,549 friends on MySpace.com. Stromberg said it has helped attract the attention of a younger demographic.

"Kinky has more friends than any candidate in the country," she said. "He's managed to bring the 18-29 crowd together on the internet and in person."

But she hopes that all those friends will show up at the polls next Tuesday.

"It's a lot easier to make Kinky your friend on MySpace than to vote."