Rick Perry vs. the World *
Tracking the 2006 Texas gubernatorial race.
* Now at the new Rick Perry vs World

Friday, December 03, 2004
The framework
The title of this blog is "Rick Perry vs. the World." It seems to be an accurate reflection of the state of the 2006 Texas GOP gubernatorial primary. Perry still doesn't have any declared challengers, but there is a definite shadow primary underway right now.

Sometimes it feels like Rick Perry really is facing the world. It seems nearly certain that Perry will face at least either Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn or Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and possibly both. At various times, there have been rumors of quite a few other Texas Republican politicos jumping into the race. Among others, they include: Bush communications guru Karen Hughes, outgoing Commerce Secretary and longtime Bush friend Don Evans, and Bush campaign strategist Matthew Dowd (more likely to run against Ag Commissioner Susan Combs for Comptroller).

Many folks associated with the White House have been rumored to confront Perry in a primary, leading some to question whether Bush is 100% behind his former lieutenant governor.

The primary will be in March 2006 -- only 15 months away. In January comes the biennial Texas legislative session, where Perry and Strayhorn will be prohibited from fundraising until May. At that point the race will be less than a year away, and fundraising will begin in earnest.

Assessing the candidates:

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison -- She's the state's most popular politician right now. For her first re-election bid, she went virtually unopposed. She's got money, she's popular, and she's sending strong intimations that she intends to challenge Perry for the governorship.

But can she win in a conservative GOP primary? It'll be a tough task, because she'll have a tough time running to the right of Perry. Hutchison has always been considered "moderate" and "pro-choice," both of which don't play particularly well in a Texas GOP primary.

For Hutchison to win, she has to bring out the moderates in the primary -- the folks who are willing to be persuaded by the major metropolitan newspapers (who will back Hutchison strongly) but may not vote. She may be popular enough to win on moderate turnout, but many campaigns have been based on turnout, and few of those have won.

Governor Rick Perry -- The first Aggie governor, Perry has faced much criticism in his first term. Texas Monthly criticized Perry harshly after his first legislative session as governor, calling him "furniture." The Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, Austin American-Statemsan, San Antonio Express-News, and Fort Worth Star-Telegram can all be counted on to write anti-Perry editorials every few months. Perry's poll numbers have plummeted as a result.

Perry isn't nearly as popular as Hutchison in state at large, but is popular with GOP activists who comprise much of the votes and manpower necessary to win an intra-party war. Despite signing hate crimes legislation in 2001, Perry has since pleased conservatives with his push for redistricting, his refusal to raise taxes, and some spending cuts. He's also pro-life, and Texas Right to Life would undoubtedly back Perry loudly.

Comptroller Carole Strayhorn -- She struck gold when she came up with the slogan, One Tough Grandma.

Will she run if Kay Bailey Hutchison enters the race? She's already given the go-ahead to Susan Combs to run for her Comptroller seat. Yet, it's tough to imagine her winning a primary against both Hutchison and Perry. Hutchison would take most of the Perry dissidents, leaving Strayhorn without much of a base. In that case, Strayhorn would probably re-declare for her Comptroller race, and hope Combs would switch.

If the race comes down to Perry and Strayhorn, Strayhorn will be a dogged opponent for Perry. She has criticized him repeatedly for the past few years, earning positive stories and editorials in the major state newspapers.

But much of Strayhorn's criticisms have focused on not spending enough money on education, health care, etc. Is this a winning formula? I doubt it.

My outlook:
Most think Hutchison is the frontrunner if she decides to run for governor. She may be; but I'd give a slight edge to Perry under all current scenarios.

Of course, there are persistent rumors that Perry is considering running for Hutchison's Senate seat if Hutchison decides to challenge him. I doubt these, but they're worth noting.

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