The Craig James Anti-Boom

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

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.