In Texas, when a man (and I think this is pretty much gender specific) looks another man in the eye and asks for his vote, any and all responses must begin with, “Tell me about your truck.”
(Please perform this in whatever your version of the quintessential Texas accent.)
You can tell a lot about a Texas man by the truck he drives, the make, the model and how high it’s been jacked up from the factory-set altitude. Trucks matter.
With that established and unassailable, let’s scrutinize the dueling non-dually trucks in the current race for lieutenant governor. Incumbent Repub Dan Patrick has featured his truck in a couple of ads. And Dem challenger Mike Collier has responded with a truck video of his own.
Gentlemen, start your pickup engines.
Patrick has a Chevy. It’s a 1952 Chevy. More precisely, many parts of it are a 1952 Chevy. Collier has a 2015 Ford F-150. There’s nothing more Texan than a Ford F-150, which has been Texas’ largest selling vehicle dating back to when Sam Houston drove down from Tennessee in his 1829 F-150.
(I think I’ve told you before that a New Jersey friend of mine, misreading the 1 and the 5 for similar letters, thought the Ford F-150 was a Ford Fiso. So there’s today’s reminder that you don’t want 100 percent voter turnout, especially in New Jersey.)
Patrick’s Chevy pickup showed up in a primary election ad that opens with him driving the truck. “I agree with President Trump. Our southern borders must be secure,” he said with pickup as backdrop and ending with “Big-city liberals want open borders but I won’t back down.”
At ad’s end we see the Chevy truck, presumably with Patrick at the wheel, heading up (or maybe down) a country road.
The truck also was featured in a Patrick ad in which he complained about “skyrocketing property taxes.” Patrick, again sporting a ruggedly manly barn coat, is holding what could be ruggedly manly work gloves or Europeanly stylish driving gloves. It also ends with the truck heading down (or maybe up) a country road.
Patrick’s truck shtick has not won universal acclaim. In a February commentary in the Dallas Morning News, Richard Parker, author of “Lone Star Nation: How Texas Will Transform America,” wrote that “As he clambers down from the cab of that vintage Chevy pickup on television, I half expect Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to start talking about the price of feed. But nah: It’s a campaign commercial designed for him to come across as a real, rootin’, tootin’ Texan.”
Patrick’s truck has been extensively and, we’ll presume, expensively restored, complete with a 1997 Camaro engine. Nice truck, but Collier says it helps certify Patrick as a phony. We’ll let Collier have his say in a minute.
This particular truck got some attention in this newspaper back in September 2016: “Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is the new owner of a custom 1952 Chevy truck Series 3100, restored by Muscle Cars of Texas, which is in Alvin.”
Patrick called it “my new parade car” and said his “kids and grandkids are going to fight over who gets it when I’m gone.”
The truck interior has embroidered state outlines. On the doors it says, “God Bless Texas. Lone Star Proud.” The engine is an aggressive, fuel-injected powerplant and the whole thing is custom tailored for Patrick.
“In fact,” the story noted, “Muscle Cars of Texas relocated the original location of the gas tank from behind the driver’s seat to underneath the vehicle to underneath the vehicle to give Patrick some much-needed leg room.”
And there was this from Vinnie Tortorella, president of Muscle Cars of Texas: “It was such an honor to create a one-of-a-kind vehicle, custom from tail light to bumper, for the most powerful man in the state.” (Don’t tell Greg Abbott or Tom Herman about that last part.)
Patrick was quoted as calling his truck “my version of the Mona Lisa” and proclaimed it “probably, in my opinion, the best ’52 Chevy pickup in the state.”
Only in Texas would a pickup truck be favorably likened to one of the world’s most enduring masterpieces.
Patrick political consultant Allen Blakemore said the truck provides a “visually interesting” setting for the ads and said it’s the latest vintage vehicle Patrick has owned, one at a time, including a 1934 Ford, a 1955 Pontiac, a 1947 Olds and a 1928 Cadillac. (This is where those not in the Dan Patrick Fan Club should not comment about his 1948 view of the world.)
Blakemore confirmed that the 1952 truck is a phony. OK, he didn’t say phony. He said, Patrick’s “not trying to restore it to its factory new condition, which some people in the vintage car business like to do. He likes to make it his own and so from the color of the paint job to the interior to those sorts of things he does it the way he wants it done.”
The truck is blue, but not political blue, according to Blakemore. “No, he just liked that particular color for this particular truck.” The restoration took about two years. Patrick paid for it out of his own pocket, Blakemore said.
“I’m not sure he’s even willing to disclose that to his wife,” Blakemore joked of the price, quickly adding, “I’m sure she knows.”
Blakemore’s been involved in Texas politics since 1980. So I figured he understands the crucial link between truck and ballot box. Surprisingly, he doesn’t.
“I’ve been working campaigns as long as you’ve been writing about them, or longer probably,” he told me. “And I’ve never heard anybody ask a candidate, ‘Tell me about your truck.’”
But challenger Collier understands the vehicle/vote linkage. Which makes you more of a Texan, I asked Collier, a 2015 F-150 or a restored ’52 Chevy?
“Oh,” Collier said without missing a beat or a chance to take a shot at Patrick, “a Ford F-150, because it’s real, because it’s honest.”
And a restored ’52 Chevy isn’t?
“It might be a real truck,” he said, “but it ain’t Texan. There’s nothing Texan about it.” (I forgot to tell him this one says “God Bless Texas” on the doors.)
And, Collier said, the trucks tell you everything you need to know in this race.
“The biggest difference between Dan and me is that he’s a showman and completely lacks substance,” Collier said. “And I am completely what you see is what you get. I bought Old Paint because I wanted to be comfortable driving around the state.”
I forget to tell you about that. Collier calls his truck Old Paint.
“Me and Old Paint are buddies now,” he wants you to know. “It’s banged up but I won’t go anywhere without it. … It just draws a huge contrast between the two of us.”
Old Paint is featured in a 78-second campaign video in which Collier does a tour de dents and dings.
“I am so honored to be the nominee for Texas lieutenant governor. And Old Paint is thrilled. We’ve been together 110,000 miles so I thought I’d show you some of the battle scars,” he tells us, starting on passenger side of windshield. “This crack is a rock that hit us in Lubbock. This crack is a rock that hit us in Luling. And this crack is a rock that hit us in Lufkin.”
Lubbock, Luling, Lufkin. Maybe Collier and Old Paint should avoid Lumberton.
Moving on, Collier notes front bumper damage: “This was my fault. I hit a telephone truck in the Rio Grande Valley. I feel terrible about that.”
We then move to where it looks like the gas cap used to be: “This fell off when I got hit by a plumbing truck. And that was in Fredericksburg, if I’m not mistaken.”
“The whole back has been replaced in that mishap,” he says as he walks behind the tailgate. “So we’re good here. It was approximately $6,000.”
By now we’re on the passenger side.
“And then over here, the (now former) Williamson County (Dem) Chair John Bucy backed this into a telephone pole,” he says. “And I’m proud of that.”
“So we got eight more months with Old Paint and once elected I think I’ll keep her,” Collier says in wrapping up. “She’s a great truck. Mike Collier for lieutenant governor.”
Collier’s a very long shot to beat Patrick. And both candidates’ trucks have a long way to go to become as famous as the 1992 Nissan pickup that Victor Morales drove around Texas in winning the 1996 Democratic U.S. Senate nomination and losing the general election to Phil Gramm.
And Team Patrick is not impressed by Collier’s attempt to win the current truck battle.
“I’m sorry, Ken.” Blakemore said. “I’m just not going to bite on Mike Collier’s truck envy that he has for a ’52 Chevy.”
Truck envy. Only in Texas?