Who will vote in three-way GOP race for governor
It’s been 20 years since the last hotly contested Republican primary race for governor in Texas. And this year’s slugfest, with a sitting United States senator challenging a sitting governor of her own party, is downright unique.
A year ago, the conventional wisdom was that the GOP governor’s nomination was U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s for the asking. Since she officially announced, however, Gov. Rick Perry seems to be favored.
Part of Hutchison’s problem is trying to be a senator and a candidate for governor simultaneously – and seeming somewhat uncertain about when, how and why to narrow her jobs to one.
She had said last summer that she’d probably quit the Senate in the fall to concentrate on the governor’s race. But come fall, she pushed the timetable back.
Then she said that because of Washington battles over things like opposing President Obama’s ambitious health care plan, she’d postpone quitting her Senate seat until after the primary. Some speculated she’d hang onto the job even if she lost the primary battle.
But on Monday, she said she’s now going to concentrate on the governor’s race, even if it means missing some Senate votes. She said she’ll return to Washington to vote only if it involves health care, or if her vote would make a difference in the outcome.
“The gloves are off,” Hutchison told supporters at her Dallas headquarters Monday. “I have been stuck doing what I said I would do in Washington. I knew it would be a disadvantage in the campaign, but I did what I had to do and what was right for Texas.”
She and Perry, plus libertarian-leaning wild card Debra Medina, will appear in an hour-long debate at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14. The debate will be televised statewide on public and some commercial stations, and on C-SPAN.
The debate can be seen locally on the public television channel, KEDT-TV.
The Perry campaign appeared unfazed, as it has for the past several months. Hutchison has repeatedly tried to gain the political high ground, with her most recent effort involving television ads blasting Perry’s now shelved Trans-Texas Corridor toll road proposal.
Problem is that one ad has the words silently scrolling on highway advisory signs, so that TV viewers with their back turned or not looking directly at the screen won’t know what the message is.
The other ad, with sound, has Hutchison on the same platform with former Vice-President Dick Cheney. That’s aimed at trying to appeal to the conservative Republican base presumed to decide the Republican nomination.
But it’s also a calculated risk – or possibly uncalculated. Some think Hutchison needs to attract more moderate voters to the GOP primary to beat Perry, and Cheney isn’t exactly Mister Popularity for folks of a more moderate political stripe.
The other part of the risk is that even if she wins the nomination, her move to the right -- including embracing and spotlighting the curmudgeonly Cheney’s endorsement -- could alienate independent voters in November.
Hutchison’s additional problem in expanding the Republican primary turnout is Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White.
The popular, moderate outgoing Houston mayor has six opponents for the Democratic nomination, including hair magnate Farouk Shami, who says he’ll spend $10 million of his own money on the race. That crowded field may keep Democrats who might otherwise cross over to the GOP primary to support Hutchison from doing so, since they want White -- who recently won the endorsement of the Texas State Teachers Association -- to head the Democratic ticket in November.
The last hotly contested Republican primary for governor was for an open seat, in 1990, to succeed retiring Republican Bill Clements. It drew candidates like Dallas attorney and education leader Tom Luce and then-Railroad Commissioner Kent Hance.
But political neophyte Clayton Williams, a Midland oilman and rancher, flooded the airwaves with TV ads promising to have prisoners “bustin’ rocks,” beginning in September of 1989. By the primary election in 1990, Williams was so far ahead that he won without a runoff.
That 1990 contest also marked the high point for turnout in a Republican primary in a non-presidential election year, of 855,231. Democrats, with a hot contest of their own between Ann Richards, Jim Mattox and Mark White, drew almost twice as many voters: 1,487,280.