Unsure voters might hold key to race
Oct. 05, 2006
By Aman Batheja
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Lindsay Weems' vote for governor is going down to the wire.
She still doesn't know what she's going to do at the polls, but she knows she wants a change at the top.
"Anything's better than Rick Perry," said Weems, 23, of Burleson.
Republican Scott Ahlgrimm supported Perry in the last election, but now he's weighing his options. For him, the lines are blurred more than usual this election season.
"I like the Christian values and some of the ideas of Republicans, but there are some things I like about the Democrats, too," said Ahlgrimm, 37, of Arlington. "[Perry's] still a possibility. I'm just not decided yet."
With five candidates vying to be Texas governor for the next four years, some voters are struggling even more than usual to settle on a candidate before the Nov. 7 election.
Polls show Perry, who is seeking a second full term, consistently leading the pack, with support of 33 percent to 35 percent. Democrat Chris Bell and independents Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman all have staked a claim to second place, citing different polls. Libertarian James Werner is also on the ballot.
In Texas, a candidate needs to earn only a plurality of votes -- not a majority -- to be elected.
"There are undecideds who can still make a difference," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.
One poll shows the number of undecided voters as high as 11 percent, up from 7 percent earlier this year.
In the last three races for governor, polling done two months before Election Day by the now-defunct Texas Poll had the number of undecided voters ranging from 10 percent in 1994 to 15 percent in 2002.
Perry's most recent approval ratings of around 45 percent are near the 44 percent that he scored before being elected to his first full term in 2002. Ann Richards had a Texas Poll approval rating of 51 percent when she was defeated by George W. Bush in 1994.Who's on second?
The crowded ballot has left voters scrambling for information about the candidates in the weeks leading up to the election.
Ahlgrimm said he will closely follow Friday's gubernatorial debate in Dallas -- the only debate to feature the four leading candidates -- to help him decide.
Weems, a student at the University of Texas at Arlington, is watching political polls and following news coverage of the campaigns. And she recently attended a candidate forum on healthcare at UTA that included Bell, Friedman and Strayhorn.
On Wednesday, the Texas chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business announced its endorsement of 70 candidates in Texas races based on surveys filled out by its 34,000 members in the state. For the first time in at least a decade, the group did not endorse a candidate for governor because no candidate earned 50 percent of the members' support, said group spokesman Will Newton.
During the 2004 presidential election season, undecided voters were mocked by pundits and on late-night television for being unable to pick between two starkly different candidates. During this year's race for governor, many local voters say they're just trying to assess all the candidates.
Just getting your name known as a candidate is as challenging as ever.
After following the campaigns in recent months, Gay Rose, 68, of Arlington thought he had finally settled on Strayhorn. Then, last week, he learned that Bell was a candidate.
"I didn't even know there was a Democrat in the race," Rose said, exasperated.
Polls have shown an ongoing shift of voter support from candidate to candidate, week to week, back and forth.
Two polls show Bell or Strayhorn in second place. A third poll recently had Friedman and Bell tied for second.Voter movement could increase as Election Day nears because of what some strategists are calling "Anyone But Perry" voters, who are dead-set against the incumbent.
Phillip Scoggins of Arlington, who declined to give his age but said he is in his 40s, turned out for the recent healthcare forum sporting a dark brown "Kinky for Governor" T-shirt. When questioned, however, he admitted that he would consider switching to Bell if it doesn't appear that Friedman can win.
Another voter, Aileen Curtin, 44, of Hurst said hearing the candidates at the forum had persuaded her to support Strayhorn. But she, too, said she would switch if another candidate had a stronger showing in the polls.
In the voting booth
Whether voters will ultimately let political calculus trump their actual feelings for the candidates remains to be seen."In a four- or five-person race like we have now, people do tend to watch the polls and watch the candidates and remain a little more flexible than they would in a two-party race," said Jillson, the SMU professor.
Jennifer Duffy, editor of Cook Political Report, a Washington-based political newsletter that describes itself as nonpartisan, said most voters won't cast ballots based on the candidate's likelihood of winning. "Generally voters aren't that strategic," Duffy said.With early voting beginning Oct. 23, Perry and his opponents are making a last-minute push for the undecided, including the "Anyone But Perry" voters."There are enough anti-Perry votes out there that a lot of people are going to go to the voting booth thinking about who's in second place," said Laura Stromberg, spokeswoman for Friedman. "They won't vote for the person they're really backing. They're voting for whoever has the best chance to beat Perry."
Bell is also making a point of touting his second-place rankings in the latest polls.
"I think the 'Anyone But Perry' vote will end up consolidating, and being the Democratic nominee, I think I have the best chance to gain as a result of the consolidation," Bell said recently when speaking with the Star-Telegram Editorial Board.
Repeated calls to the Strayhorn campaign were not returned Wednesday.
Perry, meanwhile, is working to solidify his base.
"The governor is not going to take any vote for granted, and he is not going to take any challenge unanswered," Perry campaign spokesman Robert Black said. "The other candidates can try and strategize how they can prove to people how they hate Rick Perry more than anyone else, but Rick Perry is going to focus on a positive campaign."
IN THE KNOW
Getting campaign facts
Still sitting on the fence in the governor's race? Here's how to learn more about the candidates:
Watch the hourlong debate Friday featuring all the candidates except Libertarian James Werner. The debate will air live on WFAA/Channel 8 at 7 p.m. C-SPAN plans to run a taped version of the debate at 10 p.m. Friday. There will also be live coverage on the Star-Telegram Web site, www.star-telegram.com.
Visit the candidates' Web sites to learn more about them and their take on the issues:
Visit the League of Women Voters Web site for candidate responses to questions at www.lwvtexas.org
© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram: www.dfw.com