But his fellow Republicans have questions about his candidacy
The Houston Chronicle is reporting this morning …
By JOE HOLLEY
Craig James has never run for public office, but he has no doubt why he is a Republican candidate to replace U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. “I don’t want to seem weird and like a spiritual freak,” he said last week over a cup of coffee in Austin, “but I really believe God placed it on my heart to do this.”
With flashing ice-blue eyes and a no-huddle, hurry-up approach to life, the 51-year-old former SMU football star and ESPN football analyst seems to be a man on a mission, although his garrulous, good-humored personality leavens the zeal a bit.
James himself wondered whether God had the right number when he first heard the call a couple of years ago. He said he asked his minister how he was supposed to know whether it really was a call from above.
James recalled his answer: “ ’Craig, what I’ve found is, if it’s my idea, after two or three or four days, it goes away.’ And it wouldn’t go away for me.”
God may move in mysterious ways, but a number of James’ fellow Republicans also have questions about his candidacy.
They wonder what niche the rookie candidate fills in a race that includes an establishment candidate with $200 million of his own money to spend in Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; a fiery tea party favorite in former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz; and a well-funded North Texas favorite son in former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. Recent polls show James, who joined the race at the last minute, with 2 percent support statewide.
“I’ve never met him, which seems odd,” said Jonathan Neerman, former Dallas County Republican Party chairman. “I had heard of his interest a couple of years ago, but I sort of laughed it off. It’s hard to see where his base of support is.”
James’ backers include two of Rick Perry’s longtime financial supporters, Houston investor Jim Lee and Dallas insurance executive Roy Bailey, who supported former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s presidential bid in 2008.
Lee, who helped raise money for Perry’s presidential campaign, is one of three founding partners on Texans for a Better America, a nonprofit James set up last April to promote conservative policies. James also is a board member at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank with pervasive influence over Texas Republicans.
Known for football
James’ politics generally are in line with the ultraconservative views of his fellow GOP hopefuls, but it’s his football persona that still predominates – and polarizes.
A high-school football phenom, he led Stratford to the 1978 4A championship, and then teamed with fellow running back Eric Dickerson as part of SMU’s fabled “Pony Express.” Although the Mustangs won two Southwest Conference championships, the team was found guilty of repeated rules infractions.
In 1987, the NCAA levied the so-called “death penalty” for payments to players from wealthy alumni and supporters. James has maintained that he was not involved.
After a professional career with the Washington Federals of the United States Football League and the New England Patriots, James joined ESPN and ABC. He also got involved in ranching and communications. More recently, he has been involved in a high-profile squabble involving his son Adam, formerly a football player at Texas Tech, and Mike Leach, the winningest coach in Red Raider history. James accused Leach of forcing his son to sit in a dark equipment shed during practice after being diagnosed with a concussion.
Defendant in suit
Leach denied mistreating the younger James, but lost his job over the incident. Recently named head coach at Washington State University, he is suing Tech and has named Craig James as a defendant.
“Mitt Romney will take less heat for Bain Capital closing whole factories than Craig James is already facing for how he got one football coach fired,” Democratic political consultant Jason Stanford wrote recently.
Neerman agreed. “Tech has a huge alumni base of support around the state,” he said. “Plus, I would guess he has zero support west of Fort Worth.”
Not so, says James, who insists he has supporters in Lubbock and West Texas. “I look at it like this,” he said. “I supported our son against a bullying act, bottom line – nothing more, nothing less. For anyone who doesn’t get that and wouldn’t support their son or child in a bullying act, in an unheard-of act, I don’t care for them. I don’t want their vote. Keep their vote.”
Unfamiliar with issues
James is a forceful and articulate speaker, but as he morphs into a politician his communication skills are thin cover for an unfamiliarity, for now, with the issues. At a candidate forum last week, he came out strongly – for freedom.
“I will never, never back down in fighting for freedom,” he declared. Beside him, Dewhurst wondered whether anyone would disagree.
James, who likes to say he lives on “real street,” also declared, “What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong, and it’s never right to do wrong.”
At the Texas Association of Business-sponsored forum, James voiced support for eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education. He also echoed his rivals’ support for cutting the number of weeks individuals can receive unemployment benefits.
‘I’m still standing’
Two qualities, James insisted, distinguish his candidacy – his experience as a private-sector employer and his determination in the face of adversity.
“I’ve been kicked in the backside, and I’ve been hit in the mouth,” he said. “I don’t have to have someone explain, ‘Hey man, I bet it really hurts to get hit in the mouth.’ I’ve been hit in the mouth, I’ve been on the ground. I had to get up off the ground, physically as well as emotionally, and I’m still standing.”
Joe Holley writes for the Houston Chronicle. firstname.lastname@example.org