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Abbott Brings Perry Into Mix on Campaign Trail

After at first distancing himself from Rick Perry on the campaign trail, Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott is set to make a joint appearance at a fundraiser in Houston on Wednesday with the man he's hoping to succeed.

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Though Attorney General Greg Abbott is working hard to become Gov. Rick Perry’s successor, Texans haven’t seen much of the two Republicans together on the campaign trail.

Abbott seemed to be distancing himself from Perry when his campaign first launched, making no mention of Texas' longest-serving governor during his campaign announcement last summer. While he has come out publicly in support of many of the same conservative policies Perry has championed during his tenure, he has made a point of offering new and different initiatives.

But of late, Abbott seems to be shortening any perceived distance between himself and the governor — or at least Perry's fundraising ability. The two Republicans are slated to appear together Wednesday at a joint fundraiser at the Houston home of prominent Perry donor and fellow Aggie Tony Buzbee.

Mark P. Jones, chairman of the Rice University’s political science department, said enough time has passed since Abbott first announced his candidacy for him to distinguish himself as a separate candidate and not be perceived as a “Perry surrogate.”

“Maintaining at least a level of distance during the early part of the campaign helps establish the independence of Abbott from Perry,” Jones said, adding that the joint appearance could indicate that the campaign feels it has established its own identity.

Additionally, the distance allowed Abbott to avoid being linked to Perry’s “political baggage,” Jones said.

“Rick Perry is unlikely to cloud voters’ vision of the Abbott candidacy in the same way it might have back in September or August,” Jones added. “Perry has a lot of political baggage, and there’s no reason for it to be added to the ‘Abbott Train.’”

Few details about the fundraiser have been released to the media, but the Abbott campaign has announced the joint appearance to supporters several times in email blasts, calling it a “special occasion” with the “current and future governor." The campaign also offered supporters seats at the reception in exchange for donations of $5 or more.

While the Abbott campaign did not respond to a request for comment, Abbott has previously noted his association with the incumbent governor without too many specifics, saying, “He and I were close friends and allies, and we fought side by side.”

The campaign of Wendy Davis, Abbott's likely Democratic contender in November, expressed no surprise about the Perry-Abbott joint appearance.

“It is unsurprising that Greg Abbott would be appearing with other leaders in Austin who have failed to address the very serious challenges that Texas faces, including our neighborhood schools,” said Bo Delp, a Davis spokesman.

Ideologically, Abbott and Perry line up on many fronts, including their shared opposition to federal health care reform. But Abbott has said he's "not into the comparison game" in terms of whether he's more conservative than Perry.

There appears to be daylight between Abbott and Perry on using programs like the Texas Enterprise Fund, which rewards companies with subsidies in exchange for the promise of creating new jobs in the state, to spur economic development.

Perry has widely promoted the Enterprise Fund as a job creation engine. In his initial stump speech, Abbott said he wants to get government "out of the business of picking winners and losers." But he hasn’t been clear on whether he would discontinue the fund if elected.

Abbott also differs with Perry on a bill the governor signed into law in 2001 that guarantees in-state college tuition for undocumented students. Perry has stood by the law, including his defense of it during a nationally televised debate while campaigning for president. Abbott, on the other hand, has said the law must be reformed.

Ray Sullivan, Perry’s former chief of staff, said the lack of interaction between the two Republican men so far is not surprising given the nature of an open gubernatorial seat, which the state has not seen in more than two decades. He said Abbott and Davis "are running on their merits, running their own campaigns, and certainly the voters and party faithful understand that.” 

Sullivan added that the governor’s schedule has also been full with out-of-state and international travel. (Perry is widely believed to have his sights set on a 2016 presidential bid.)

But Sullivan also emphasized the “significant differences” between Abbott and Perry from a stylistic standpoint.

“Abbott, by virtue of being an attorney and a former judge, has traditionally been very deliberative and selective in when and how he weighs into public policy matters,” Sullivan said. “Gov. Perry, who has longer experience in elected office …. has been free, and anxious in some cases, to weigh in on issues — in some cases controversial issues — more frequently and more notably.”

While Abbott has been outwardly making his own mark on the gubernatorial trail, behind the scenes, his campaign is packed with former Perry consultants and staffers, including chief consultant Dave Carney, who worked as the governor’s chief adviser for more than a decade. The New Hampshire-based political guru led Perry’s failed presidential run before falling out with the governor while on the campaign trail.

Abbott campaign manager Wayne Hamilton is also a veteran of Perry’s presidential campaign, in which he served as political director. Former Perry scheduler Kim Snyder is now deputy campaign manager. Sarah Floerke was a deputy legislative director for Perry and now oversees political affairs for Abbott.

The list also includes Eric Bearse, Perry’s former speechwriter and deputy campaign communications director, who is on the Abbott payroll as a consultant, and the Lauderback Group, a fundraising firm that also helped raised money for Perry’s White House bid.

Davis is also getting help from staffers with experience in presidential races, particularly from former Obama fundraisers and through Battleground Texas, a Democratic group working to increase voter turnout and make Democrats competitive in the state. Battleground was founded by former Obama field director Jeremy Bird.

Ellis Brachman, a spokesman for Battleground, said the fact that Perry is appearing with Abbott now is "further proof that Battleground Texas and Wendy Davis have scared them by showing that Texas Democrats are competitive."

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Politics State government 2014 elections Governor's Office Greg Abbott Rick Perry Wendy Davis