Barring an act of God, Debra Medina won’t be the next Texas governor — which may be why one of her last campaign stops had the feel of a church revival. "Short of the Bible, that U.S. Constitution is the best blueprint ever laid for a free and prosperous society," she said to crowd. "And yet we ignore it. We ignore it at our peril." (Baptist preachers, take note: This is how to win converts.)
To a chorus of "That's right" and "uh huh," the long-shot Republican candidate gave one of her last stump speeches on Saturday in Abilene. As she neared the end of the campaign trail, her events still took place in restaurants and rented social halls and averaged about 100 people (the Abilene crowd was closer to 150). Her support was still somewhere in the teens in most polls, down a little from early February, a few points behind Kay Bailey Hutchison and a couple dozen behind Rick Perry. It's not the end the campaign had hoped for, but the numbers didn't stop folks from getting riled up when she spoke — or from asserting that she would be the GOP nominee come Tuesday night.
“We’ll do a runoff if we have to," she said after her speech. "I’d like to secure it outright." She paused and smiled. "It will be the upset of the century if that happens," she said.
Medina's no dummy — she knows her odds aren't great. But she's come to discover that if she can talk to people, she can win them over. In Abilene, Taylor County Republican chair Joy Ellinger, who has been officially neutral, said Medina has a strong base of support. Several people who came in undecided left with Medina bumper stickers.
“She makes a lot of sense,” Marcus Anderson said after the event. “I really didn’t know what her views were before.”
Some came in with concerns about Medina’s disastrous Glenn Beck interview. On his radio show three weeks ago, Medina failed to discredit those who allege U.S. government involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Beck slammed her response. While Medina said afterward that she only meant that people have a right to ask questions about who was involved, the incident earned enormous and mostly negative media coverage. Beck has been a lead voice in the Tea Party movement, and his criticisms had the potential to do irreparable damage.
Mark Garoutte planned not to vote for her after the incident. He said before her speech that her answer left him concerned about her political abilities. He’d even gotten Rick Perry to sign his cowboy hat. But after the two-hour event in Abilene, he was singing a different tune. “She changed my mind,” he said. “I’m going to vote for her in the primary.” And he’d let her sign his hat, too.
The Beck incident never came up during the speech. According to campaign spokesperson Gwen Walton, it rarely does. Instead, Medina has been sticking with the same message she’s had throughout the campaign: Keep power local and government small. And no property taxes. “What we all need to be doing is looking in the mirror and saying, What is my government doing for me that I should be doing for myself?” she told the crowd.
She insisted that she can win, pointing to numbers of contributors rather amounts of contributions. While Hutchison and Perry have raised and spent more, she said, about 5,000 people had given to her campaign. She took credit for Perry’s recent actions against the Environmental Protection Agency, saying she’s been talking about the issue for months.
She explained that reporters from across the country had come to cover her — once a man from the London Times even showed up. That's evidence, she argued, that her campaign is going somewhere. “London is watching,” she practically shouted over the cheers. “Germany is watching.”
Even if the campaign doesn’t end as she dreams, Medina she said the issues remain the same. “Irregardless [of winning] we’ve got to eliminate property tax in Texas. It needs to be done,” she said. “And we’ll go to Plan B to get it done.” No word on what Plan B is; Medina said she’ll cross that bridge when she gets to it. And she ducked when asked if she'd consider a run for U.S. Senate if her bid for governor fell short.
Why should she have answered? There remained a fervent hope among her supporters in the room, and elsewhere, that an underfunded but earnest registered nurse from Beeville, Texas, could make her way to the Governor’s Mansion if everyone worked hard enough.
That described Kerry McDonald, who saw Medina during the debates and was ready then to elect her governor. “I hope she can. I think she can,” he said. “If the word gets out enough, I believe she can.”