A person wearing a large yellow chicken costume first appeared at the Feb. 17 mayoral debate that was attended by three of the four candidates: Ed Shadid, Joe “Sarge” Nelson and Phil Hughes. Mayor Mick Cornett chose not to participate.
The costumed character held a sign that read, “Why won’t Mick debate?” A day later, Mick Chicken appeared at the city-sponsored grand opening of the old Santa Fe Depot carrying the same sign. Cornett and Shadid were among elected officials and local dignitaries who attended the event.
This isn’t the first time political candidates have used gimmicks in connection with debates.
“We took the same approach David Walters did (in a 1986 gubernatorial campaign) when he sent someone in a duck costume to follow (Henry) Bellmon around because he was ducking debates,” the councilman said.
Also in 1986, Walters used a life-sized photograph of a napping Bellmon as a stage prop for a mock debate during a fundraising event. The photograph was taken years earlier, when Bellmon was in the gallery of the state House of Representatives listening to a speech by then-Gov. George Nigh.
Although the photo created a humorous political memory, the longtime Billings farmer defeated Walters to earn his second term as governor.
This year’s spoof has evolved with the creation of a Twitter account using the handle @ MickChickens. One Twitter post shows Mick Chicken sitting in the mayor’s chair inside the Oklahoma City Council chambers with the comment, “Historic mayoral debate? Pfffft. I’m already so transparent, I’m invisible.”
The post is a reference to a statement from Cornett’s campaign management explaining the reason the mayor did not participate in the Feb. 17 forum. Part of the statement reads, “Every day, Mayor Cornett is meeting with voters, interacting on social media and answering questions about the issues. He is the most accessible and transparent candidate in the race.” The mayoral primary election is March 4.
Leaders of Oklahoma’s Republican and Democratic parties said wacky and unusual tactics can make a candidate memorable, but that doesn’t always translate to a win.
John Roberts, political director of the Oklahoma Republican Party, recalled 2010 television commercials for Bill Crozier, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.
Crozier made bungled attempts at playing sports, dancing ballet and even being a Russian spy before declaring that he was not any of those things but he was a “man of action.”
“When you talk about humorous ads, that one was so unusual it’s incredibly memorable,” Roberts said.
The Oklahoma State Election board showed Crozier received 5.19 percent of the vote in a five-candidate primary.
Roberts warned that some tactics can backfire and turn the candidate into a punch line.
“When you try to go outside of the box on a campaign slogan or commercial, it’s a risky proposition,” he said.
Wallace Collins, chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, said most candidates steer clear of the odd and arcane but it’s not always bad to have a gimmick. He cited David Boren’s successful gubernatorial campaign in the early 1970s in which, in an effort to sweep out corruption, Boren supporters attached brooms to their cars.
“If a candidate can come up with some kind of a gimmick, you remember it whether you agreed with him or not,” he said.