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Perry and White Way Out Front

Gov. Rick Perry is well ahead of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and former Wharton County GOP chair Debra Medina, who are locked in a statistical tie for second place in a GOP gubernatorial primary that could go to a runoff, according to a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Gov. Rick Perry is well ahead of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and former Wharton County GOP chair Debra Medina, who are locked in a statistical tie for second place in a GOP gubernatorial primary that could go to a runoff, according to a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Perry had the support of 45 percent of self-identified Republican primary voters — short of the majority required for an outright win. Hutchison had 21 percent and Medina had 19 percent, a two-percentage-point divide that's smaller than the poll's margin of error.

In the Democratic primary race, former Houston Mayor Bill White has a huge lead over his next closest challenger, businessman Farouk Shami, pulling 50 percent to Shami's 11 percent. Five other candidates are in the running for the Democratic nomination; the survey found that only 9 percent of those polled prefer someone other than the two frontrunners.

Undecided voters are still significant in both gubernatorial primaries. On the Republican side, 16 percent said they hadn't made up their minds. Pressed for a preference, 51 percent chose Perry, 34 percent chose Hutchison, and 15 percent chose Medina — an indication that Perry could win without a runoff if he can attract those voters into his camp. Among Democratic voters, 30 percent were undecided, and of those, 48 percent, when pressed, said they lean toward White. With White already at 50 percent, that means Shami would have to strip votes away from him in order to force a runoff or to claim a win.

The numbers show significant erosion for Hutchison since the first UT/TT survey in late October, when Perry had 42 percent of self-identified Republican primary voters to her 30 percent (Medina, at the time, had 7 percent). "Debra Medina has turned this thing upside down," said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, who conducted the poll with Daron Shaw, a professor of government at UT-Austin.

"Debra Medina has clearly become a wild card in the Republican gubernatorial primary race," Shaw said. "She caught everyone's attention in the debates and is riding a bit of a wave. The analytical question is 'who does she hurt more?' On the one hand, she has been reasonably effective in critiquing Perry's stewardship and conservative credentials. On the other hand, she cuts into Hutchison's claim as the most plausible vehicle for change."

White, who now apparently is running away with the Democratic race, wasn't even in the running in October. He was in the midst of an exploratory race for the U.S. Senate, based on the idea that Hutchison would resign and there would be a special election to replace her, and only joined the gubernatorial contest on December 4. Shami wasn't a declared candidate, either, and many of those who were in the race — Tom Schieffer, Ronnie Earle, Kinky Friedman, and Hank Gilbert — got out. Undecided voters led with 55 percent in our first poll of the Democrats.

In general election matchups, the Republicans trump the Democrats. Perry would beat White, according to the new poll, 44-35. Hutchison would, too, and by the same margin: 43-34 (in our earlier poll, she outperformed Perry in hypothetical general election matchups). Medina and White would tie, 36-36. Shami would lose a hypothetical race to Perry, 48-25; to Hutchison, 49-23; and to Medina, 40-24.

Democratic primary voters have a couple of other statewide races to decide. In the contest for lieutenant governor — the winner will face Republican incumbent David Dewhurst in November — labor leader Linda Chavez-Thompson took 18 percent of those polled, former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle got 16 percent, and restaurateur Marc Katz had 3 percent. Five percent of voters said they wanted "somebody else," and a whopping 58 percent remain undecided on the eve of early voting, which begins on Tuesday. Kinky Friedman and Hank Gilbert — two refugees from the governor's race now running for agriculture commissioner — are locked in a tight race, 32 percent to 27 percent. While Friedman's ahead, the difference is within the poll's margin of error. And, as with the Lite Guv race, "undecided" is actually leading, at 41 percent. The winner will face incumbent Republican Todd Staples in November.

In the fantasy special election to replace Hutchison in the Senate — she has said she plans to resign before her term ends, no matter how the gubernatorial race turns out — Democrat John Sharp leads, with 29 percent, followed by Dewhurst at 15 percent and five more Republicans clustered in low single digits, with each at 3 percent or less. All told, the GOP votes add up to 24 percent; besides Dewhurst, the candidates polled were sportscaster Craig James (1 percent), Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones (2 percent), State Senator Florence Shapiro (2 percent), Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams (3 percent), and former Secretary of State Roger Williams (1 percent). That's the rub in this race: Sharp is the only Democrat left now that White's out, while the Republicans have to share their party's votes. Even so, "undecided" sits atop the heap at 47 percent. In the earlier UT/TT poll, White and Dewhurst were tied at 13 percent, with Sharp at 10 percent. (A special election would go to a runoff if nobody got a majority in the first round. In the last such election, in 1993, Hutchison finished first, barely, in the first round of voting with then-U.S. Sen. Bob Krueger, the dominant Democrat in that race. She trounced him in the second round.)

Texas remains a red state, as evidenced by respondents' answers to generic party questions about Congress and the Legislature. Without picking specific candidates, 44 percent said they would vote for the Republican in a race for Congress, to 35 percent for the Democrat; 17 percent were undecided. Asked the same question about the Texas Legislature, 43 percent chose the Republican and 36 percent chose the Democrat, with 18 percent undecided.

How strong is the Tea Party movement, and who does it steal votes from? Asked the generic congressional question with that movement included as a third organized party, 21 percent said they would choose the Republican, 36 percent would choose the Democrat, and 16 percent would vote for the Tea Party candidate. More than a fourth — 27 percent — said they were undecided. So the Democratic numbers held, while Republicans lost 16 points to the Tea Party and the rest to undecided. "The electorate is responding to whatever it is they're associating with the Tea Party — at the expense of the Republicans," Henson said. While that's not necessarily to the advantage of the Democrats, he said it will have an effect on the majority party: "The tea party is going on in the Republicans' house."

The Internet survey of 800 registered voters was conducted February 1-7 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.46 percent. The GOP primary questions have a +/- 5.12 percent margin of error; the Democratic primary questions have a margin of error of +/- 6.02 percent.

On 2/11, a 9/11 Stumble

This is a math problem nobody thought of until now. With Kay Bailey Hutchison's support waning in recent polls, Rick Perry's holding and Debra Medina's gaining, it's in the best interests of both of the old-timers to jump on the newcomer. Perry's hope is that the people who left Hutchison for Medina will leave Medina for him and get him to that elusive majority he's been chasing for four years. Hutchison, at worst, needs to finish second in the primary — with Perry falling short — to get into a runoff and to stay alive for another six weeks or so after March 2. She needs to reclaim the people who appear to be leaving her for Medina.

So everybody's ready to dogpile.

And Medina gave them the opportunity by leaving the door open for questions about U.S. responsibility for the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. Radio host Glenn Beck asked her if she is a "9/11 truther" who believes the federal government had a hand in the attacks. "I think some very good questions have been raised in that regard," Medina responded. "There are some very good arguments, and I think the American people have not seen all of the evidence there. So I have not taken a position on that." Her full comments are online here.

Perry pounced, saying, "anyone who would suggest 9/11 is a conspiracy involving the Bush administration should be ashamed." Hutchison pounced, too, calling the comments "an affront to the men and women who are sacrificing their lives to root out the terrorists in Afghanistan and around globe." And former FEMA director and prominent Bushie Joe Allbaugh — not an elected official seeking office, was blunt: "Ms. Medina – this is nuts!!"

The question now is whether Medina's voters care about this, and whether it changes their mind about how (and whether) they'll vote in the GOP primary.

Never Speak Unless It Improves the Silence

The differences in the top Democratic candidates for governor are pretty clear. In their first and probably only televised debate, Bill White sounded experienced, as you'd expect of a three-term mayor of Houston. And he kept his reputation for being sober and wonky. Farouk Shami, a wealthy Houston businessman, was more passionate, more animated, and much more prone to political mistakes. He offered several statements that will make simple work for anyone who feels the need to attack his candidacy. To wit:

• On economic development: "I will guarantee everybody's job."

• On reviving the economy: "I will guarantee 100,000 jobs in Texas in the first two years or I will give the state $10 million."

• On immigration: "Without Mexicans, it would be like a day without sunshine."

• On his wind and solar energy plans: "My aim for the state of Texas — within 10 years, you will not have an electric bill."

It only lasted an hour, but voters got a chance to see real differences in the two candidates. Shami would support a moratorium on the death penalty; White would not. White would leave the laws on abortion alone; Shami is pro-choice but only for the first 60 to 90 days of a pregnancy. Shami wants a moratorium on Barnett Shale drilling because of pollution from benzene; White wants standards that would be enforced against bad actors while leaving other companies free to drill. An increase in gas taxes is "not where I would start," White said, but he later added that he favors a legislative proposal that would allow local option gasoline taxes for transportation projects. Shami would support an increase in gasoline taxes for roads.

Low Dollars, High Profile

With competitive primaries in several districts, there's been no shortage of attention on the State Board of Education races between conservative and moderate Republicans, But among those watching are Democrats waiting to find out what kind of a race they'll be running: against a far-right Republican with a record or the new business-style Republicans challenging them.

Rebecca Bell-Metereau, who's running for Ken Mercer's District 5 seat has been gaining name recognition — a recent endorsement from Henry Cisneros helps. She says the Republican primary outcome won't matter too much. "My message would essentially be the same," she says. "It seems very obvious to me that we need educators on the State Board of Education."

With $15,000 on hand, Bell-Metereau is the financial frontrunner of the four Democrats running for the seat. She says her biggest hurdle in the race will be getting the money to compete with Republicans. Tim Tuggey, the Republican challenger, has $36,000 on hand currently and Mercer received $35,000 from a single donor in 2006.

"We don't have these very large donors throwing their weight around," says Bell-Metereau. "We don't have anyone coming around and saying here's thirty thousand dollars."

But Harold Cook, a Democratic consultant who's worked with Bell-Metereau, says she should hope for a Mercer primary win. Mercer has been an outspoken member of the conservative bloc and has written extensively on his opposition to evolution and support for traditional math and English teaching. "The distance is shorter," with Mercer, he says.

Bell-Metereau isn't the only one running, and the races are too small to warrant any polling. Daniel Boone, a candidate with recognizable name, says, "Money is not going to be the determining criteria" in the race. That's probably good for him, since he's only got $3,300 on hand. But what's his strategy? "I have worn out a good pair of shoes already," he says.

— Abby Rapoport

Who's Whose?

Score another one for Sergio Muñoz Jr. as he tries to replace state Rep. Kino Flores, D-Palmview, to represent HD-36. Muñoz, a Democrat, this week picked up the endorsements from Pharr Mayor Leopoldo "Polo" Palacios and the city's commissioners. In a statement on the Muñoz campaign's Web site, Palacios states Muñoz, the son of former state Rep. Sergio Muñoz, could help grow the City of Pharr and add to its emerging reputation as a major trade hub in the state.

The endorsement follows last week's nod from Mission Mayor Beto Salinas and that city's commissioners, who announced last week their support for Muñoz over his challenger, Sandra Rodriguez. She is a former school board member and probation officer who narrowly lost to Flores in 2008. Rodriguez seems unfazed by the endorsements and is confident she has support from community leaders even though they haven't said so publicly. "The commission here in Pharr, they are supposedly saying the mayor is with him (Muñoz) but not all the commission is with him," she says. "He claims that the school board is all with him. Well, there may be a few members but I have half of them."

Voters won't have to wait until November to see whom their next representative is. There are no Republicans or Libertarians vying to represent the heavily Democratic district. The primary winner is going to Austin next year.

— Julian Aguilar

Field Notes

Mabrie Jackson picked up endorsements from The Dallas Morning News and Texas Parent PAC. The race itself is heating up. The best example is a voyeuristic web video advertising a former business of candidate Wayne Richard, which was removed from the web after it came to light. A disagreement is brewing over who has and has not signed a Taxpayer Protection Pledge committing to fighting all tax increases; candidate Van Taylor released an ad saying he is the only one to have done so, but now both of his opponents say they have, too.

Rep. Chuck Hopson was honored by the Texans for Lawsuit Reform and awarded the TLR Civil Justice Leadership Award. The Kilgore News Herald reported that Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, was in attendance and said of the Democrat-turned Republican, "I don't care if he's a Democrat or a Republican. The truth of the matter is, he's Chuck Hopson."

In HD- 38, it was a week of gab. Throughout the week, the four candidates for Rep. Dan Gattis' seat were traversing the district in a series of six forums. But they have enough to brag about: Milton Rister received the Texas Home School Coalition endorsement and another from the Texas Alliance for Life, while competitor Charles Schwertner got support from the Texas Municipal Police Association. Not to be outdone, Stephen Thomas got support from the Austin Firefighters PAC and Parent PAC.

Eric Johnson is finally getting in good with the Democratic establishment. Johnson challenged Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, for her seat and met with resistance from other incumbents. Now, however, Hodge has dropped out and pled guilty to tax fraud. Prominent Democrats, organized by Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, have now switched to endorsing the newcomer, including Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, and Dallas City Council members Angela Hunt and Dwaine Caraway (the latter two are officially nonpartisan).

— Julian Aguilar, Reeve Hamilton, and Abby Rapoport

The Week, in the Rearview Mirror

1. Fresh off an appearance at a national Tea Party convention during which she was caught reading notes off her hand, former vice presidential contender Sarah Palin was the star of a star-studded campaign rally for Gov. Rick Perry. State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and rocker Ted Nugent were also on stage. Palin was once again caught ink-handed: This time she had written "Hi Mom!"

2. Public opinion seemed generally unmoved following a debate between Democratic gubernatorial candidates Farouk Shami and Bill White. While White was not very animated, the debate was marked by seemingly outlandish promises from Shami, including that he will create 100,000 jobs in two years or personally pay the state $10 million. The most memorable moment belongs to Shami saying, "Without Mexicans, it would be like a day without sunshine."

3. The race between state Rep. Al Edwards, and former state Rep. Borris Miles, both D-Houston, took a wild turn, as Miles — formerly a notorious partier — submitted himself to a live drug test while being interviewed on Houston radio station KCOH. The results came back negative — he's drug-free.

4. According to conservative talk show host Glenn Beck, GOP gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina put her campaign on the fast track "back to four percent." She appeared on his radio show and was asked if she believed the government was involved in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. "There are some very good arguments," she responded, "and I think the American people have not seen all of the evidence there. So I have not taken a position on that." Beck laughed and said, "I think the American people might take that as a yes."

5. Sales tax receipts for December 2009 brought a mixed bag of good and bad news to Texas. Municipalities across the state hauled in less sales tax receipts during the month than they did the year before, but the drop off wasn't as sharp as in previous months. The good news from the report is that some cities actually saw gains in sales tax revenue, specifically Austin and El Paso. Larger cities like Houston, however, took a significant hit.

6. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison surprised Super Bowl viewers with an ad that took an approach not yet seen in the contentious GOP gubernatorial primary — humor. The ad was set inside Gov. Rick Perry's "attack ad headquarters," and it mocked his ads while criticizing his "hypocrisy" on issues including the Trans-Texas Corridor, HPV vaccines, and federal bailouts. Democrat Farouk Shami also splurged on an ad during the big game, though it was the same one that has been scene countless times by Texas television viewers in the last few months.

7. Farouk Shami unleashed some unexpected criticism on his Democratic primary opponent Bill White, taking offense to White saying he was born in San Antonio in an ad. "I take that as a racist comment," said Palestinian-born Shami. "It doesn't matter where we're from. I'm a better Texan than he could ever be."

8. On Thursday, a standing-room-only crowd of health care advocates and providers implored the Texas Health and Human Services Commission not to slash already threadbare services, despite state leaders' call for all agencies to cut 5 percent of their budgets to protect the state's "short-term economic future."

9. Newspapers have begun rolling out their endorsements. The Austin American-Statesman came out for Democrat Bill White and Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison. The Dallas Morning News endorsed Democrats Ronnie Earle for lieutenant governor and Kinky Friedman for ag commissioner — though that was more due to negative feeling for opponent Hank Gilbert than positive vibes for Friedman. The paper also endorsed Hector Uribe in the Democratic primary for land commissioner.

10. A flurry of new polls brought good news to GOP gubernatorial candidates Debra Medina and Gov. Rick Perry, but little solace to U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's campaign. In a Public Policy Polling poll, Medina was within the margin of error behind Hutchison, trailing her 24 to 28. A Texas Credit Union League poll put Perry at 49 percent — close to that 50 percent sure-thing mark that he hasn't seen since his unchallenged 2006 primary.

— Reeve Hamilton

Political People and Their Moves

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst named Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, to the Legislative Budget Board. Hinojosa is the vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Ann Smisko moves from the Austin ISD back to the Texas Education Agency, where she'll be associate commissioner for school support and involvement. She was at TEA for 26 years before leaving to work at Texas A&M University System and then at AISD.

Deaths: Otice Green, chief of staff to Gov. Preston Smith and advisor to any number of South Plains politicos, including former U.S. Rep. Kent Hance, now the chancellor at Texas Tech. Green succumbed to cancer. He was 82.

Quotes of the Week

Gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina, asked by radio host Glenn Beck if she thinks the 9/11 attacks could be part of a domestic conspiracy: "There are some very good arguments, and I think the American people have not seen all of the evidence there. So I have not taken a position on that."

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on the passing of former Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson: "After the Soviets left, Charlie kept fighting for the Afghan people and warned against abandoning that traumatized country to its fate — a warning we should have heeded then, and should remember today."

Gov. Rick Perry on the effect of Sarah Palin,at his pre-Super Bowl rally: "At the very mention of her name, the liberals, the progressives, the media elites, they literally foam at the mouth."

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Farouk Shami during the Democratic gubernatorial debate, on the best way to approach the immigration situation: "Without Mexicans, you know, it would be like a day without sunshine in our state."

Pat Oxford, one of Kay Bailey Hutchison's statewide coordinators, in the Houston Chronicle: "We're behind. There's a huge D.C. headwind that Kay is fighting."

Jane Cull, whose home was built by political financier and builder Bob Perry and has been deemed to have serious structural problems, on why their long legal battle with Perry is unfair, quoted in The Dallas Morning News: "Bob Perry doesn't have to watch the money clock. He has pockets deeper than the ocean."

Former McAllen Mayor Leo Montalvo on why the policemen who stopped him for a DWI should not arrest him, quoted in the McAllen Monitor: "Do you know who I am? Please, sir, don't ruin my several years of public service."

Lubbock Councilwoman Linda DeLeon on not seeking re-election after 24 years in office, quoted in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: "No officeholder is irreplaceable, and no one is indispensable."

Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 6, 15 February 2010. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2010 by The Texas Tribune. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (512) 302-5703 or email For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

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