Election 2008


‘Texas Justice’ Judge Larry Joe Defeated

November 05, 2008 11:00 AM
by Isabel Cowles
Larry Joe Doherty, former judge on the TV series "Texas Justice," loses the 10th Congressional District against Republican incumbent Michael McCaul.

McCaul defends district against Doherty

On Tuesday, Doherty played his hand and lost. Doherty, listed on the National Committee for an Effective Congress’s (NCEC) Candidate Center as an “attorney, TV actor, singer, and poet,” ran against two-term incumbent Rep. Michael McCaul in Texas’ 10th District.

Consisting of Austin and Houston suburbs, the district is traditionally Republican, with 61 percent of the population favoring President George W. Bush in the 2004 elections. Earlier this year, however, the tide seemed to be turning, with Doherty closing up the gap on McCaul just days before voters hit the polls.

But in the end, McCaul was re-elected to his third term on Tuesday, in spite of being targeted by Democrats, who focused on him as a potentially weak GOP candidate after he defeated his last Democratic opponent by a mere 55 percent.

Background: Celebrity transitions; Texas Justice TV

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, eager to grab the seat from the Republican incumbent, buoyed the former TV star’s campaign with funding and other support. News reports predicted that Doherty’s celebrity status, well-funded campaign, and a surge in Democrats’ confidence, particularly in Austin, from the Obama rallies could have been enough to win him the seat he is seeking.

Meanwhile, McCaul refused to acknowledge his challenger, whose antics he felt would turn the election into a “media circus.”

If Doherty had prevailed, it wouldn't have been the first time a television star leapt from the small screen to Capitol Hill. Among the most famous, Fred Grandy jumped ship from his role as Gopher on Love Boat to serve in Congress representing Iowa. There’s little doubt that Sonny Bono’s fame as a national icon helped him win a House seat from California in 1994. And Ben Jones, who played Cooter the mechanic on The Dukes of Hazzard from 1979 to 1985, was elected to serve two terms in Congress from Georgia’s Fourth District.

According to Jones, name recognition is everything in politics: “When people go down and look at the ballot, if they know one name and they don’t know another, they’ll vote for the one they know,” he told USA Today.

The transition can work in reverse too, as demonstrated by Jerry Springer, who served two terms as mayor of Cincinnati in the 1970s before hosting The Jerry Springer Show. In 2003, Springer considered leveraging his celebrity status to move back into the political sphere, but ultimately decided not to run for Congress, saying that he could not break through the “clutter” of his trashy talk show: “As long as I’m doing that show, my message, no matter how sincere and no matter how heartfelt, does not get through to the people I need to reach.”

Still, the ease with which past TV stars have slid into Congressional seats could have presented a challenge for McCaul. Texas Justice, which ran from 2001 to 2005 and opened with Larry Joe riding horseback in a cowboy hat amid a montage of Texas imagery, focused on minor cases that deal with no more than $5,000. Virginia Heffernan of Slate highlights Texas Justice’s “folksy” overtones, made apparent when the bailiff instructs the courtroom, “Y’all rise,” upon Judge Doherty’s arrival.

Key Players: Judge Larry Joe Doherty, Rep. Michael McCaul

Larry Joe Doherty
Before earning fame for his clichéd role as a Texas judge on TV, Doherty practiced law in Houston for 31 years. A partner at the Doherty & Wagner law firm, he focused mainly on legal malpractice suits. He also served as a member of the Texas Wildlife Association. Before the premiere of Texas Justice, Doherty told the Houston Business Journal, “I’m going to try to dispense broad justice. It’s not going to be harsh or hostile.” He ran on a platform of energy independence, affordable healthcare for the working class and withdrawal from Iraq. Doherty’s campaign Web site also highlights accessible higher education and creating a more sustainable environment as his top priorities.
Michael McCaul
McCaul, a Republican, is currently serving his second term in the U.S. House of Representatives for the 10th District of Texas. His earlier roles include Chief of Terrorism and National Security in the U.S. Attorney’s office, federal prosecutor, and Texas Deputy Attorney General. McCaul’s campaign emphasized tightening border control, increased medical and financial support for veterans and protecting America from terrorist attacks by equipping troops abroad with the best equipment and intelligence teams.

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