Scott McClellan’s Mom Runs for Texas Governor

Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the mother of White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, is running for Texas governor as an independent.

The AP presents this as a stunning break in the GOP.

Photo Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, right, is shown with her husband, Ed, left, on Monday, Jan. 2, 2006, in Austin, Texas. Strayhorn turned her back on the Republican party, announcing she'll seek the governorship as an independent candidate. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn turned her back on the Republican Party and announced Monday she will run for governor as an independent. The move allows Strayhorn to escape a potentially ugly primary battle against Gov. Rick Perry. The GOP primary is set for March 7.

Strayhorn, who calls herself “One Tough Grandma,” has been a harsh critic of Perry’s leadership over the past couple of years. Monday’s announcement all but guarantees Perry will be the Republican candidate on the November ballot. “I am a Republican,” she said. “But I know we must set partisan politics aside and do what’s best for Texas. That is why I am running for governor as a Texas independent.”

Ugly, perhaps. Plausible? Unlikely.

Robert Black, a campaign spokesman for Perry, said the party switch is an admission that Strayhorn could not win the GOP primary, and he called the move “transparent political opportunism.”

Both Strayhorn and Perry are former Democrats who switched to the GOP in the 1980s as the party rose to political dominance.

Well, no. Perry was elected Lieutenant Governor and then Governor. That’s dominance. State Comptroller? Not so much.

The Texas State Comptroller’s Office was created in 1835 by Texas’ provisional government and renewed by each constitution. The present office of the Comptroller was created by the Texas Constitution of 1876 (Article IV, Sections 1 and 23) and is responsible for collecting state revenue, tracking state expenditures, and monitoring the financial condition of the state. The Comptroller was popularly elected for a two-year term until a constitutional amendment in 1974 lengthened the term to four years. The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts is the state’s chief fiscal officer, bookkeeper and economic forecaster.

AP buries their lede in the last sentence of the story:

One of Strayhorn’s sons, Scott McClellan, is President Bush’s press secretary, and another son, Dr. Mark McClellan, is administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Hotline On Call gets the headline right, at least: “Strayhorn, A.K.A., Scott’s Mommy, To Run As An Eye (“I”).” Their story is much more informative, too:

The Quorum Report says today that TX comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn will run for governor as an independent.

Strayhorn, a former Dem, had hinted of an independent bid and as recently as Friday, her campaign refused to say what her party allegiance would be come today, which marks the filing deadline in TX.

Strayhorn is the mother of WH press sec. Scott McClellan.

Dems Chris Bell and Bob Gammage are on the line to challenge GOP Gov. Rick Perry; satirist Kinky Friedman has filed to run as an independent. There’s no guanratee that either Strayhorn or Friedman will land on the ballot; the requirements for ballot access are expensive and onerous for independents in TX.

But — in one way, Strayhorn’s decision confers an advantage. Candidates wanting to run as independents must gather about 46,000 signatures from the pool of voters who don’t vote in the primaries. Since the Strayhorn/Perry primary would have been the only race to trigger high turnout, a competition-less GOP primary will enlarge the pool of voters from which Strayhorn and Friedman can collect names.

Our question: can they legally work together? Can one person legally sign a petition for both Friedman and Strayhorn?

Perry leads comfortably in all head-to-head polls but his approval rating is below fifty percent, a sign of vulnerability. He is more popular than he used to be among conservative Texans, who make up between 35-45 percent of the electorate and more in the GOP primary.

So, Perry was a shoo-in for the GOP nomination but might have sometrouble in the general election. Strayhorn is vying with novelty candidate Kinky Friedman for third place.

Update: Steven Taylor, a transplanted Texan who earned his PhD in politics at UT-Austin in the 1990s, looks at the polling trends and concludes that Strayhorn has “an outside chance of winning” and an even better chance of coming ahead of the Democrat.

In the comments below, he notes that he didn’t even realize she was McClellan’s mom. Not surprising, since she has changed her last name three times since beginning her political career.

As Carole Keeton McClellan, she was the first female mayor (1977-1983) and school board president of Austin, Texas. As Carole Keeton Rylander, she was the first woman elected to the Railroad Commission of Texas. . . . She is currently married to jewelry designer and construction businessman Ed Strayhorn.


During her stint as Comptroller, when she married Strayhorn and changed her last name, it is reported that instead of ordering all new stationery and discarding the old, she simply crossed out “Rylander” on the existing stationery and replaced it with “Strayhorn”, as a means of saving taxpayer funds.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Not necessarily. Usually I pencil in “third” or worse next to the name of any independent candidate.

    However, I think she may be able to compete, given the weakness of the Democratic Party in Texas, and the fact that she has been active in Texas politics for a long time and has some name recognition–I wouldn’t base the analysis solely on her being comptroller.

    And, if memory serves, she has quite a personality, the kind that could drown out a second-tier Democrat running for the office.

    I think it unlikely that she could win, but think it quite possible that she could be competitive.

    I wrote about it this morning in fact: here.

    Let’s put it this way: having lived in Texas as an adult from 1990-1998, I knew her name and didn’t even realize she was McClellan’s Mom until relatively recently. To me, it was “hey, McClellan is Strayhorn’s son” rather than “hey, McClellan’s Mom is running for gov.”

  2. Additionally, Perry’s poll numbers show vulnerability: see here.

    A weak Democratic candidate (a likelihood) + a weakened Perry = a possibility that a third party candidate with personality, political connections, and the potential to appeal to Reps and Dems who could be competitive in a way that third party candidates normally are not.

  3. Anderson says:

    Gosh, I wonder if Scott McClellan will have any comment on this?

  4. In fact, I still think of here as ” Carole Keeton Rylander” and almost typed it several times today.

  5. and BTW: being on the Railroad Commission is actually a pretty good gig, as despite the name, it has to do with the oil industry. It isn’t what it was during the heyday of Texas oil, but it is a great place to make political connections.

  6. bryan says:

    I also knew her as Carole Keeton Rylander, and the Strayhorn thing threw me. Comptroller can be a pretty big deal in Texas – John Sharp was well known while comptroller.

    And the democrats don’t seem to have a prayer.

  7. Anderson says:

    Well, it appears that she can win, if she can get 3 different names on the ballot.