The new ‘retail politics’

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Gov. Rick Perry are taking the term “retail politics” quite literally.

The term usually refers to politicians’ public appearances that put them in direct contact with the people whose votes they are seeking. The idea is to see — and be seen by — as many voters as possible.

But get this: The two leading Republican candidates for governor have come to Amarillo in recent days and made campaign stops at small venues that specialize in the sale of goods and/or services.

Perry stopped the other day at a Coulter Street strip-mall shoe store and returned today for a meeting at a local real estate broker’s office. Hutchison campaigned recently at a Plains Avenue saddle shop and returned this week to a popular Paramount Boulevard restaurant.

I was wondering: Whatever happened to those town square political rallies? They used to produce big crowds to cheer on whatever the candidate had to say. Gov. Perry and Sen. Hutchison could have sent their respective faithful into a frenzy at Potter County Courthouse square, creating a big news event for television and, of course, for the newspaper. The last major political public rally I attended, I think, was in 1988 when the Rev. Jesse Jackson campaigned for president in Southeast Texas. It was a big deal and Jackson energized a lot of people all at once.

Perry and Hutchison, though, have settled for these intimate venues where only a few dozen people could meet them, shake their hands, pat them on the back and offer them good luck as they head down the stretch.

I prefer the big rallies, either as a partisan or a journalist. And the big rallies still fit the description of “retail politics” that allow rank-and-file voters to see the candidates in the flesh.

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