Political Animal


February 09, 2012 1:40 PM The Craig James Anti-Boom

By Ed Kilgore

Sometimes a widely disliked public figure will get an itch to run for political office, and even people who care nothing about politics will join in a festival of schadenfreude watching the legend-in-his-or-her-own-mind go predictably down the tubes. There was some of that in 2010 with California senatorial and gubernatorial candidates Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, who made a lot of enemies in their business careers, though in eMeg’s case, it was her mind-numbing overkill in TV advertising that made even apolitical Californians look forward eagerly to her concession speech.

But I’ve never quite seen anything like the growing national interest in the likely crushing defeat of former NFL player and ESPN “personality” Craig James, who is running for the Republican nomination for the Senate in Texas this year. It’s not like James is a big threat to win or anything. As the Houston Chronicle noted after publication of a PPP poll on the race last month:

James, who formally launched his campaign last week, draws 4 percent support. The former SMU Mustang and New England Patriot running back is struggling to overcome two liabilities: he’s largely unknown and he’s unpopular among those who know him.

Yet the campaign of this going-nowhere-man is getting some pretty serious national coverage. The Boston Globe, which does not normally follow Texas politics closely, published a long profile of the candidate that featured James’ remarkable storehouse of cliches. And just yesterday the American Prospect put up a report on James’ race by Abby Rapoport. Beyond that, a vast array of college football blogs around the country are occasionally writing about James’ downward spiral with ill-disguised glee.

Why all the hate? Well, some people are probably troubled by James’ admitted (though minor, he claims) role in one of the great play-for-pay scandals of the 20th century, which uniquely earned SMU’s football program the “death penalty” from the NCAA. But James is best known by college football fans for his body of work as a sportscaster and “analyst” for ESPN, where he has routinely been described as the worst in the business, a guy who can actually ruin a game for viewers. And that was before he got very, very involved in a successful effort to get cult-figure coach Mike Leach fired from his job at Texas Tech for alleged mistreatment of his (James’) son. The general feeling of college football fans is that ESPN kept James around and overtly took his side in the Leach affair in order to demonstrate their power to do whatever they want.

So as James’ Senate candidacy circles the toilet bowl, there are a lot more people (at least outside Texas) cheering his demise than cheering any of his Republican or Democratic rivals. It’s a shame he can’t turn his national notoriety into a few more points of name recognition in the state where he is actually running.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • VI on February 09, 2012 1:58 PM:

    Well, it doesn't help that the finest sportswriters in college football have objectively failed to condemn the utterly false rumor that CRAIG JAMES KILLED FIVE HOOKERS AT SMU....#rememberthe5

  • T2 on February 09, 2012 2:20 PM:

    its a head-scratcher as to why James got in the race....a race no one gives him any chance at all of being a factor in and certainly not winning. Why would he do it?

  • Hedda Peraz on February 09, 2012 2:24 PM:

    Even in Teas this is waaaay more than i need to know about somebody i never heard of.

  • Peter C on February 09, 2012 2:30 PM:

    I guess I'm just old; I remember with nostalgia when there was an expectation that important governnmental figures like Senators would have 'qualifications' for the offices to which they aspired. Perhaps the obvious incompetence of Bush and his administration has removed this expectation. I'd hoped, after the failed candidacies of Palin and O'Donnell, that perhaps such an expectation could be reestablished, but evidently we're not there yet.

  • chopin on February 09, 2012 2:45 PM:

    I dread the day we here in Colorado will be plagued by a Tim Tebow candidacy cheered on by the icon-groveling dim bulbs who give not a shit about minor things like governance.

  • T2 on February 09, 2012 2:58 PM:

    chopin, I wouldn't worry too much. When the Broncos go 2-12 next year, Tebow will be history.

  • berttheclock on February 09, 2012 3:08 PM:

    Meanwhile the fans of football Wazzoo style applaud you, Mr James, for helping in ruining the career of Mike Leach at Texas Tech, thereby, making him available so he can lead Wazzoo to victory over The Dub and Nike U.

    So, Mr James, is your coddled and pampered son going to be your campaign manager?

  • berttheclock on February 09, 2012 4:34 PM:

    Perhaps, VI, they realize Everyday should be Saturday's stunt was a sham.

  • Anonymous on February 09, 2012 8:29 PM:

    I am amazed that you managed to get to the end of this post without typing "Howard" or "Costello". Come on admit it, you are old enough to remember him. Maybe you missed his senatorial campaign ( I'm not joking he really did run for the Senate).

    Also Newt Gingrich. Now that's been fun so far. I don't want to take His name in vain, but if I were God, I would be Sorely Tempted to see just how big Gingrich's head would swell if he won S Carolina and how much he would suffer if he came back so far from disgrace just to be crushed ( again). Not saying it happened, but a lot more plausible than values voters voting for a serial staff banger, because of the way he responded to a question about his infidelity no?

  • Eponymous on February 10, 2012 1:39 AM:

    Wait, CRAIG JAMES KILLED 5 HOOKERS WHILE AT SMU? Some people say it is a rumor, but I have not heard Craig James deny that he killed 5 hookers while at SMU. It seems to be an important question to ask. After all, if Craig James killed 5 hookers while at SMU, he probably shouldn't be running. Now I really want to know if CRAIG JAMES KILLED 5 HOOKERS WHILE AT SMU. #rememberthe5

  • Nick Nafpliotis on February 10, 2012 1:54 AM:

    Too bad there is plenty of proof that James took more than an "insignificant" amount of money at SMU.


  • Doug on February 10, 2012 9:14 AM:

    T2: "Why would he do it?"

    Three reasons: ego; ego; And even more ego. Part of the reason he's infuriated ESPN's viewers for so long is because he has no qualms about completely derailing discussion of a game in progress with tales of his own football career or miscellaneous, contrived good-ol'-boy BSing. He's already used ESPN and Texas Tech for the sole purpose of advancing the Craig James brand, such that there is one, and apparently he thought he could do the same with a Senate seat. But apparently even an electorate dumb enough to vote in George W. Bush and Rick Perry on multiple occasions isn't going for his shtick.

  • Georgiajeepn on February 10, 2012 1:33 PM:

    Hey Peter C you mention the lack of qualifications of Palin and O'Donnell and the obvious incompetence of Bush and his administration but how about the granddaddy of all Obama? You talk about nostalgia of being qualified for office is way gone how about the fact that this total failure is quite possibly going to be relected again. How far this country has sunk.