"Perry's unpopular Trans-Texas Corridor...may kill him among the Republican base."
April 17, 2008
By RICK CASEY
Some Republicans groaned at Gov. Rick Perry's announcement that he plans to seek another term in 2010, but Mayor Bill White's camp reacted with glee.
White has made no effort to hide the fact that he is looking to run for governor after being term-limited out of the mayor's office next year.
And Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the biggest vote-getter in Texas history, has been more than hinting that she plans to "come home" to run for the same office. She outlined to Texas Monthly last November a plan to resign the Senate in 2009 to make the race, while saying it was too early to make a formal announcement.
She more than hinted she would run two years ago, too, but Perry stared her down. (He also stared down then-Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who chose to run as an independent.)
In your face, Kay
This time Hutchison has been assuring supporters she intends to make the race.
Perry's choice of the Dallas Morning News as the outlet for his decision was something of an in-your-face response to the gubernatorial musings of Hutchison, who hails from Dallas.
A primary fight between the two of them delights White supporters.
For one thing, as popular as Hutchison is, winning the Republican nomination is not a sure thing for her.
She has alienated the conservative "base" by voting for funding for stem-cell research, by supporting the SCHIP program that President Bush vetoed and for somewhat moderate stands on immigration.
Perry is still strong with the "base." But he won only 39 percent of the vote in 2006 against a lineup of Democrat Chris Bell and independents Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman.
Golden spot in the middle?
Perry encouraged speculation that he might be a choice for vice president on Sen. John McCain's ticket, but the notion has drawn about as much attention as a 39 percent "landslide" victory for an incumbent deserves.
Hutchison has been mentioned widely as a veep possibility, but at 64 she doesn't help McCain much with the age issue, she doesn't help him with the right side of the party that distrusts him, and he doesn't need her to carry Texas.
White would much rather run against Perry. White is considerably stronger in the business community, which hates the new business "margins tax" Perry pushed.
Time to pick her battles
White would sell himself as a pragmatic and competent problem solver, contrasting his accomplishments in Houston with the internecine squabbling that has marked Austin — squabbling that can be expected to continue if Tom Craddick holds on to his House speaker's chair.
Hutchison has won considerable praise for hard work she did with Democrats and business leaders on the issue of military base closures around the state. She, like White, is seen as a pragmatist and a problem solver.
White supporters say she might have to tarnish that image in a tough primary, something she's not faced in her 15 years in the Senate.
"In a primary against Perry, she would have to run to the right," said one White guy. "That takes her away from her golden spot in the middle."
I'm not convinced she would have to run hard to the right.
Even with many independents voting in the Democratic primary in Texas last month McCain beat conservative Mike Huckabee 51 percent to 38 percent.
Given how weak the state Democratic Party is, it is unlikely any statewide race in the next Democratic primary would attract independents away from a spirited primary matchup between Perry and Hutchison.
After all, down ballot from the presidential contest this year, the most exciting statewide race in the Democratic primary was for the right to face U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. It pitted Houston State Rep. Rick Noriega against a geriatric hermit whose only political asset is the name Gene Kelly and two lesser-known candidates.
Noriega eked out a victory without a runoff.
What's more, opposition to Perry's unpopular Trans-Texas Corridor, which Hutchison has vigorously opposed, may kill him even among the Republican base.
So the glee that lit up the White camp Thursday is likely to fade, unless Hutchison once again loses her nerve.
You can write to Rick Casey at P.O. Box 4260, Houston, TX 77210, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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