Bill White is sharing ballot space with six other candidates in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, but you wouldn't know it from listening to him. The lawyer, businessman and former Houston mayor appears to be thinking past Tuesday with an eye on the general election — and his likely Republican opponent, Gov. Rick Perry.
White, who as mayor rarely talked politics publicly, smiled coyly when asked about competition from Farouk Shami, the Houston hair care mogul who has spent at least $9 million from his personal fortune in a longshot bid for the Democratic nomination. "We'll have an election, and people will vote, and the votes will be counted," White said.
Rather than focusing on Shami, who is trailing significantly in polls, White has been questioning Perry's record on education, transportation and jobs at recent campaign stops. Last week, during an event at Parque Zaragoza in Austin, he implied that the governor doesn't care about the needs of many Texans.
View an audio slide show from that event:
"We have schools in this community where there are few extracurricular activities because they don't have the funds for it," White said. "We have citizens who are looking for work, struggling right now from some of the highest unemployment rates we've had in Texas. But he says everything is just fine, because he's governor. We need somebody who understands where Texans are coming from."
The Perry campaign, which seems more and more confident about its chances in the GOP primary and the fall election, dismissed the attack: "The governor is focused on his primary race and not baseless attacks by a liberal Democrat."
Polls show that White, who has also served as a deputy secretary in the U.S. Department of Energy, trails both Perry and the governor's main rival in the GOP contest, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, in hypothetical head-to-head contests in November. He notes that those campaigns have each spent at least $10 million on media buys, calling his campaign "retail." Still, he recently reported having almost as much cash on hand ($5.4 million) as Perry and Hutchison combined.
"They've been spending a fortune on television. I bet everyone knows who they are. I still have to let people know who I am," he said of the heated GOP contest. "My job is to communicate to as many people as I can about where I'd like to go in the future of this state, and to hope that people want a better future for this state and are willing to support somebody who will work for the people."