As Republicans poke around for signals on how to vote in crowded primary races — those, that is, who have not taken advantage of early voting — the state’s top elected Republican official is offering little assistance.
Gov. Rick Perry endorsed one candidate for the Texas House — Jake Ellzey, a retired Navy pilot described by a Perry aide as a friend of the governor — and four incumbent judges appointed by Perry.
For everybody else, the governor has uncharacteristically become the man who wasn’t there.
Who can blame him? The race for lieutenant governor has four officeholders in it, each allied at some time or another with Perry, ostensibly the party’s standard-bearer. The race for attorney general has three candidates. It might be too much to expect the governor to endorse Debra Medina in the four-person Republican field for comptroller — she did run against him in 2010 — but he has stayed out of that race, too, along with most of the others.
No best friends, no endorsements, no hurt feelings, no risk of an embarrassing win-loss record when the votes are counted. For a governor in his last year on the job with a faint possibility of another national race in front of him, this might turn out to be a smart piece of politics.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is playing a different version of the same game. Cruz, the most popular Republican in Texas right now, has endorsed Konni Burton, a Texas Senate candidate, and the same four judges Perry is backing for the Supreme Court.
But Cruz’s unofficial seal of approval graces several other candidates, notably Ken Paxton, a state senator seeking the Republican nomination for attorney general. An effusive speech by Cruz at a public appearance on Paxton’s behalf is the centerpiece of the candidate’s statewide TV ads. Anyone seeing that ad would find it difficult to believe that Cruz was voting for anyone else in that three-way race.
More than a half-dozen other candidates also have the senator’s coveted blessing.
Perry has been stingy, endorsing his five choices and moving on to other matters. He traveled to Iowa this week, presumably because he has some interest in that state’s next presidential primary.
But he has shied away from some of the most consequential politics at home. Texas Republicans are making their nominations for seven top executive offices — at least six of which will be occupied after this year’s elections by new people (Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is the only incumbent seeking re-election.) Nearly three dozen Republicans are running. They are still politicking, trying to break out of the pack on this final day of early voting and in anticipation of Tuesday’s primary.
“He made a determination very early on in most of these races not to get involved — not to say he hasn’t been asked,” a spokesman for Perry, Mark Miner, said.
Voters are still making up their minds, and they have an information problem. The primary ballot is full of familiar and unfamiliar names, and the partisan markers that help identify candidates in general elections are missing.
In November, the straight-party vote is available to anyone who chooses not to venture all the way through a political literacy test that requires voters to know not just the candidates for governor, but also for countless judicial and local jobs.
In March, there is no equivalent. Slate cards with lists of endorsements from various groups can help. Endorsements from political personalities can also help.
That is why, for instance, Ellzey is running a TV ad that features a picture of him and the governor saluting side-by-side, while “Endorsed by Governor Rick Perry” flashes across the screen. This is the political equivalent of those recommendations you see on websites based on your previous purchases: “If you like the governor, you might also like...”
And it could be important in House District 10, where four Republicans are vying for the party’s nomination in an open seat. Another candidate, T.J. Fabby, has been endorsed by several conservative officeholders and others. Now Perry’s on the other side, giving Ellzey something to offset Fabby’s pals.
Those voters get a nudge the rest of the state’s voters will not get. For the most part, the governor is casting a secret ballot.