Campaign Manager Kyle Sims on How to Unseat Incumbents

Kyle Sims with signs for Shelley Luther
Kyle Sims with signs for Shelley Luther | Image by Kyle SIms/Twitter

Have you ever considered running for office?

There are a lot of barriers to doing so, especially when facing an incumbent. Political orthodoxies hold that it is nearly impossible to unseat an officeholder, especially one flush with cash. The casual observer could get the impression that these are the only two things that matter.

OpenSecrets, a database of election information, reports that 95.2% of incumbents were reelected in 2022. However, one man recently explained how a candidate can overcome both obstacles.

Kyle Sims learned the art of politics the same way he learned the craft of construction (which he worked for 32 years): by doing it.

Sims has managed several campaigns for candidates, but his most recent success came in the form of helping Shelley Luther defeat three-term incumbent Rep. Reggie Smith (R-Sherman) in the Republican primary for Texas House District 62. Luther garnered just over 53% of the vote to Smith’s near 47%.

Luther is the famous Dallas salon owner who was jailed for reopening her business in violation of COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. She previously faced off against Smith in the 2022 Republican primary for the same seat, with Smith taking almost 59% of the vote to Luther’s 41%.

A number of incumbents were defeated in the recent Texas Republican primaries. The failed impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton was a motivating factor for nearly 50 primary challenges this year. Nine Republican incumbents were defeated outright, and eight more, including House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), are heading to a runoff in May.

Sims gave advice to prospective candidates when he appeared on the Cowtown Caller podcast earlier this month, identifying some of the areas candidates should focus on if they want to defy the political odds.

First, stick to the facts. Sims does not object to vigorously going after your opponent’s record, but he believes there is a right way to do it.

“Don’t ever attack your opponent just to attack them,” said Sims. “If you’re going to say something about your opponent, make sure it’s facts and don’t make up something or assume something.”

“Research is paramount to anything you do, especially in politics. There are so many resources where you can track a candidate down. You follow their money, their connections. You can see who they are tied to. You see what they voted for in the past,” he said. “That’s what you run on. You run on the pure facts.”

Sims said that challengers must “remain laser-focused on what [they are] doing,” advising that candidates ignore the accusations and name-calling.

“It really takes a dedicated, strong person to be in politics –– especially a candidate –– and especially a race like Shelley’s,” he said.

According to Sims, having a ground game is critical.

“We knocked [on] hundreds of doors. We went to, I don’t know how many events. We were visible all the time,” he said. “We were somewhere every night for about three months. … You have to look voters in the face, and you have to answer every question they want you to answer with honest answers.”

“If you don’t know the answer, you tell them you don’t know the answer,” he stressed.

When asked if it is money that decides elections, Sims acknowledged that while money oftentimes does decide elections, that does not have to always be the case.

“Reggie spent over $900,000. We spent a little over $300,000. So money doesn’t always win,” Sims noted before reiterating what he believed were the fundamentals of campaigning against an incumbent.

Sims said he and Luther were “very proud of that race, very proud how we ran it, and we have no regrets on the strategy that we used to do that.”

Luther will face Democratic nominee Tiffany Drake in the November general election. District 62 generally favors Republicans, with Smith defeating the Democratic nominees by over 50 percentage points in the last two general elections.

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