National Analyst Sees a Real Race for Texas Guv

Rick Perry, Bill White
Rick Perry, Bill White

The Cook Political Report, a non-partisan online political soothsaying publication, just declared the Texas gubernatorial race a toss-up. Previously it had been in the "Lean Republican" category.

Despite Gov. Rick Perry's decisive victory in the Republican primary and the GOP dominance in the state, Senior Editor Jennifer Duffy points to signs of Perry fatigue. She argues that Democratic nominee Bill White's history as a businessman and moderate, as well as solid fundraising stats, will help protect him from getting called a "screaming liberal Democrat."  They also predict that Democratic lite guv candidate Linda Chavez-Thompson will help turn out the Hispanic vote — presumably a boon for White.

Most interestingly, Duffy says that had U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison won, the open-seat contest would have lent itself to the state's traditional Republican voting patterns. But she says Perry's incumbency may be enough of a liability to elect White.

Some excerpts from the release:

...In the end, voters still saw a nasty and expensive primary, but it fell short of the bruising slugfest most had predicted. Although Medina took 18 percent of the vote, she didn’t force a run-off as Perry took 51 percent and Hutchison fell far short of expectations at 30 percent. Hutchison’s candidacy seemed doomed almost from the start. Citing Hutchison’s 17-year tenure in the Senate, Perry attacked her early and often as a creature of Washington and a symbol of all its problems. Apart from going after Perry for being the state’s longest serving Governor who is now seeking a third full term, Hutchison never seemed to find a message that resonated with voters. ...

It’s also worth mentioning [Debra] Medina’s performance. Medina was a favorite of Tea Party activists, but many observers believed that she had irreparably damaged her candidacy in February when she suggested that she had some empathy with those who believe the theory that the September 11 attacks were an inside job. On one level, Medina’s 18 percent is impressive for an underfunded candidate. On another level, though, the Tea Party in Texas is believed to be one of the largest and most active in the nation. If their candidate could pull just 18 percent under those circumstances, it may not bode well for other Tea Party candidates across the country. In fact, none of the Tea Party candidates running in Congressional races gained any significant ground on GOP incumbents in Tuesday’s primary.

The Democratic primary was a much tamer affair. Once he got into the race late last year, former Houston Mayor Bill White was a clear frontrunner. White took 76 percent of the vote, to 13 percent for hair care products millionaire Farouk Shami, who spent millions of his own money on the race. Five other candidates split the remaining 11 percent of the vote. ...

White cites his ability to bring people together to get things done, to bond with voters in his effort to pass pension reform, and Houston’s widely praised response to Hurricane Katrina among his proudest accomplishments as mayor. He also cut property taxes five times while in office. White also says that he decided to run for Governor because he believes that Texas has all the ingredients to make it a great state of opportunity, except in the area of education where it lags behind much of the rest of the country on all measurements. He argues that the state’s future can be better than its past if the right investments are made, and that his success in business and as mayor shows that he is the right person to make that happen because he knows how to make government more effective. Democrats also believe that there is Perry fatigue, even if it wasn’t evident in the primary.

In their primary victory speeches, both candidates telegraphed their strategies in the general election. Perry seems intent on sticking with his theme that Washington is broken and will link White to President Obama and congressional Democrats whenever possible. White will focus on getting Perry to defend his own record and outline his vision for another four years, while providing answers to why under his watch the state has high electric and insurance rates, high unemployment and low high school graduation rates. The Democrat also wants Perry to answer for the growth in state government and unfunded mandates to local governments that have occurred during his tenure. ...

White is probably the strongest gubernatorial candidate Democrats have nominated since Ann Richards was the party’s standard bearer in 1990. He is a proven fundraiser, starts the race with a solid base of support, and boasts a resume in business and a record as mayor that will make it hard for Republicans to label him as a screaming liberal Democrat. It helps that Democrats nominated a Hispanic woman for Lieutenant Governor, which is likely to spike Hispanic turn out in November, something that will benefit White. Finally, there are some signs of Perry fatigue, which could hurt the Governor at a time when the electorate is restless.

Perry is known for running well funded, aggressive, no-holds-barred campaigns and this will be no exception. However, this also might end up being the most difficult race of his career. As a result, we are moving the contest from the Lean Republican to the Toss Up column.

Interestingly enough, we might not have made such a move if Hutchison had won the primary since it would have become an open-seat contest where we would give greater weight to the state’s traditional Republican voting patterns. But, in this case, Perry is a known quantity and traditional voting patterns may not matter as much. Stay tuned; this is likely to become one of the more hotly contested gubernatorial races in the country.

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