Thursday, July 31, 2008

"He runs the political risk of alienating those who need the money, who are out fighting for their political lives."

Gov. Perry raising eyebrows with early fundraising

July 31, 2008

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

AUSTIN – Gearing up for an unprecedented fourth term, Gov. Rick Perry is planning about 20 fundraisers between now and December, even though he won't face an election until March 2010.

Some in the GOP are grumbling that the Perry campaign is tapping the same donors who are needed to help Republican candidates in elections just three months away.

"We don't get any sense of that," said spokesman Robert Black, who added that Mr. Perry also has scheduled time to make appearances for other candidates and help raise money for their November contests.

Mr. Black confirmed the number of planned fundraisers, saying "it's a heavy schedule."

Mr. Perry served the two years remaining in George W. Bush's term before winning four-year terms of his own in 2002 and 2006. He will soon become the longest-serving Texas governor, an office with no term limits.

His longevity and relatively low poll numbers – he won his last election with 39 percent of the vote in a field of four major candidates – mean Mr. Perry could face tough competition within his own party. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has indicated that she is considering seeking the office, which could lead to a costly primary battle.

"The governor's a Boy Scout, and he knows you have to be prepared," Mr. Black said. "He's going to be prepared for any contingency."

In their last fundraising reports, at the end of June, Ms. Hutchison listed $8.6 million in the bank, while Mr. Perry had $2.9 million.

The word in GOP circles is that Mr. Perry is "trying to match her by the end of the year," said one Republican strategist working for a candidate on the ballot this fall.

He said the effort is "definitely raising some eyebrows" and chafing candidates who are in the middle of tight battles. "Now is crunch time for them. You have to wonder, what's the hurry for Perry?" he said.

Part of the equation for the governor is that he is prohibited under state ethics law from raising money for about six months, from just before the next legislative session begins until his deadline to sign or veto bills.

Ms. Hutchison, if she chooses, also has those six months to raise money. But as a senator, she is limited by federal law to a contribution cap of $2,300 per person. State officeholders have no contribution limits, and it hasn't been unusual for Mr. Perry to rake in $1 million from a handful of donors.

"There are bears in the woods, and they're coming for the gubernatorial position," said political consultant Bill Miller. "If he's going to try and hold on, he's going to need to load up. The big war chest will ward off the smaller bear, but not the big bears."

He said sophisticated donors would find something to give the governor but continue to contribute to close November contests. But some GOP candidates probably still don't like competing with Mr. Perry for money right now, Mr. Miller said.

"He runs the political risk of alienating those who need the money, who are out fighting for their political lives, and he's asking for money when he's not up" for re-election immediately, he said.

Texas is a big state, and it takes millions to run a competitive race, Mr. Black said.

"To have a full-time operation to reach out to your supporters is a full-time endeavor. He does not go dormant," he said.

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