Big Hutchison Backers Haven't Settled on a Candidate

Texans who gave big money to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to try to unseat Rick Perry for governor in 2010 haven’t gelled around a single candidate in the presidential race. In fact, the majority of them seem to still be sitting on the sidelines.

Of the top 40 financial donors to Hutchison’s gubernatorial campaign, only 17 had given to a 2012 presidential candidate by the end of September — and of those, there was little consensus.

The Hutchison supporters “look like all the Republicans right now — they’re not quite sure what they want to do,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor and pollster at the University of Texas. “They’re looking for a candidate that they think can win the nomination, but they also don’t want to throw money away,” he said, adding, “I think they want to keep their powder dry.”

Only eight of the top 40 Hutchison donors had contributed solely to Perry’s presidential campaign by the end of September, the close of the last campaign finance reporting period. John Robert Brown, the owner and president of the El Paso private investment company Brownco Capital LLC, donated more than $100,000 to Hutchison’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign because he wasn't confident Perry would run for re-election. Brown was contacted early on by Hutchison asking for his support, and he said he wanted to honor that commitment. He is now financially backing Perry for president.

“I like the things that the governor [has] done in Texas, from tort reform to the good business environment that the governor continues to lead the charge on,” Brown said. “I think he can implement a lot of things he has done in Texas and bring that to D.C.”

 

Six of the top 40 Hutchison donors have given to multiple presidential candidates. Hushang Ansary, a Houston philanthropist and Iranian-American diplomat, gave to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign in May and then to Perry’s in September, once the Texas governor jumped into the race.

Dallas developer and philanthropist Harlan Crow and his mother, Margaret, who collectively gave nearly $230,000 to Hutchison for her gubernatorial bid, have donated to Perry’s presidential opponents. Margaret gave to Jon Huntsman in July, while Harlan gave to former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in June. Right before Pawlenty dropped out of the race, Harlan donated to Huntsman, too.  

Two other Hutchison supporters, Erle Nye, the former TXU chairman, and Robert Rowling, chairman of the holding company that owns the Omni Hotel chain, have both given to the same three Republican presidential candidates: Romney and Pawlenty earlier this summer, and Perry in mid-September.

Fredericksburg businesswoman and philanthropist Dian Stai is the sole Michele Bachmann contributor on Hutchison's top-40 list. She also donated to Perry’s campaign in September.

Houston businessman Robert Tudor, the CEO of the energy investment and merchant-banking firm Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., is the only top-40 Hutchison donor to have given solely to Romney so far. And billionaire banker Andrew Beal is the only big Hutchison backer who has donated to U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.

Still, the majority of the top donors haven’t played their cards yet. Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project and a UT government professor, said that in recent years, there hasn't been a "clear powerhouse" in Texas in primary season. “That’s kind of been the case in our state for the post-Bush cycles for president,” he said.

But he said political observers should be careful not to read too much into this mixed — and seemingly minimal — support. He said it's entirely possible these big Hutchison backers are giving to political committees that aren't required to reveal their donors’ names. “That way, they can give more than just the small presidential contribution limit, and it’s less public,” he said.

Hutchison has made no secret of her disdain for the prospect of a Perry presidency. In an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union earlier this month, Hutchison held fast to her previous criticisms of Perry, saying: “I’m not going to backtrack on anything I said. … I thought that we needed a choice in Texas, and I certainly feel the same way about the United States."

But Shaw said Hutchison doesn’t have the kind of personal following some other political figures do, “so I don’t know how much of an impact her statement would make on her supporters."

“You hear the tale of people losing favor if they don't back their governor,” Shaw said. “I suppose that’s possible, but it’s not clear how much longer Perry is going to be governor. This will probably be his last term.”

 

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