Strother, Raymond D. 1940-
STROTHER, Raymond D. 1940-
Born 1940, in Port Arthur, TX; married Sandy Peck; children: Kristan, Dane. Education: Attended Northwestern State College; Louisiana State University, B.A., M.A. (journalism).
Home—Bozeman and Wise River, MT, and Washington, DC. Agent—David West, News Bureau, Northwestern State University, Natchitoches, LA 71497.
Strother, Duffy, Strother Ltd. (political consulting firm), Washington, DC, president. Political consultant to governors such as Bill Clinton, Roy Barnes, and Buddy Roemer, to presidential candidate Gary Hart, and to U.S. senators Russell Long and Lloyd Bentsen. Resident fellow, Institute of Politics, Harvard University, 2002.
American Association of Political Consultants (president).
Strother Awards (named in his honor), 2002; inducted into Louisiana State University Journalism Hall of Fame.
Cottonwood (novel), Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.
Falling Up: How a Redneck Helped Invent Political Consulting (autobiography), Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge, LA), 2003.
Though less well known than protégé, James Carville, Raymond D. Strother has the distinction of being one of the first people to make a big name for himself as a political consultant. At a time when the profession barely existed, Strother was providing crucial advice in congressional, senatorial, and gubernatorial campaigns throughout the South. His list of clients over the years reads like a Who's Who of southern Democrats and includes Bill Clinton and Al Gore, senators Lloyd Benson, Russell Long, and John Stennis, and governors Mark White, Buddy Roemer, and Roy Barnes, as well as presidential candidate Gary Hart. He has been named to Louisiana State University's Journalism Hall of Fame, served as president and chair of the American Association of Political Consultants, and has even had a national award for political professionals named after him.
Born in Texas, Strother honed his political skills in the rough-and-tumble world of Louisiana politics when he moved there to go to college. He got his start as a press secretary/driver/bodyguard for State Treasurer Mary Evelyn Parker's 1967 reelection campaign, where he learned the lessons not always taught in political science courses, such as the importance of carrying a pistol in certain Louisiana parishes. When he worked on the failed comeback campaign of former Governor Jimmie Davis, which featured outdoor speeches, guitar strumming, and free watermelons, Strother realized the old stand-bys were useless and started to take a closer look at television, intensive fundraising, and polling. He was one of the first to urge reluctant candidates to hire a pollster, a practice which has since become standard.
Viewing the state of contemporary politicking, Strother feels a certain responsibility. As he told Judy Woodruff in a CNN interview transcribed on CNN.com, the rules have become "win at any cost. You justify any action whatsoever for victory. In my business, you're never hired for a bad campaign, for a losing campaign.… So what you set up is a rivalry between political consultants, and they influence candidates to do things that probably shouldn't be done in a campaign." This same attitude too often translates into governing by polls. That does not mean everybody is tainted. As he told Woodruff in that same interview, Strother admires candidates like Gary Hart and Senators Paul Simon and Lloyd Bentsen, who drew a sharp distinction between the campaign side of politics and the governing side. Unfortunately, not everyone feels this way. Strother has often told the story of one unnamed senator who called him up, furious that Strother had not warned him that a particular congressional vote might be unpopular in his state. It was a disturbing reminder that politics and governing have become dangerously intertwined.
After publishing the novel Cottonwood, "a hugely entertaining debut" according to Publishers Weekly reviewer Sybil Steinberg, about a disillusioned political consultant caught up in a corrupt senatorial campaign, Strother decided to tell the story of his own life. Falling Up: How a Redneck Helped Invent Political Consulting actually proved harder to write than he thought it would be at first. As he told interviewer Clancy DuBos for Best of New Orleans, after four unsatisfying attempts to tell his story, he had just about given up. "Then one day it came to me like a blinding flash. I realized that I had been dishonest from beginning to end. I hadn't told the truth. I'd cut corners and shaded things. I worried about what people might think." This time, Strother decided not to hold back or protect himself or his candidates. The result is an unvarnished exposé of modern American politics. For New York Times political reporter Adam Clymer, the book "is most entertaining when it describes the excesses of Louisiana politics, where Strother started in 1967 and returned again and again. 'A political campaign was an orgy of noise, money, fistfights, bad-weather flying, midnight telephone calls, quick romances, intrigues, storytelling, scheming, dreaming, lying and hyperactivity that resulted in an orgasm of frayed and overstimulated emotions on election night,' he writes."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Falling Up: How a Redneck Helped Invent Political Consulting, p. 1433.
New York Times Book Review, April 27, 2003, Adam Clymer, "Spin Doctor," p. 15.
Publishers Weekly, December 21, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Cottonwood, p. 42.
CNN.com,http://ww.cnn.com/ (May 13, 2003), Judy Woodruff, transcript of interview with Strother.*