Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Perry endorsed the status quo at the Texas Department of Transportation."


Candidates consolidate position in second debate


William Lutz
The Lone Star Report
Copyright 2010

Most Texas newspapers and journalistic commentators argue that Gov. Rick Perry "won" the Belo debate -- the second and final debate of the 2010 Republican primary election for governor. Having watched the debate, I'm not so sure. I'd score the debate itself a draw, but one could make that case.

Since Perry is in the lead in most third-party polls, all he had to do is avoid a major gaffe or screw-up and he can consolidate his position. For the most part, Perry did that.
Here are my thoughts about each candidate's performance:

Perry -- He got high marks from the press corps for his demeanor. Yes, he gets high marks for his delivery, but the substance of his answers could cause problems with Republican primary voters -- if he opponents understood how to exploit them.

Basically, Perry endorsed the status quo at the Texas Department of Transportation (though I don't the Legislature is comfortable with that). He did publicly state what's been known privately for some time -- that he's opposed to raising the gas tax (and that may help him with some GOP primary voters, until they see the alternative).

If groundwork had been laid months ago, the Enterprise Fund could have been used to blunt Perry's "bailout" attack on U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, but coming this late in the game it's probably too little too late.

Also, Perry screwed up by endorsing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, but given the current economy, that probably isn't big enough to hurt him, and Hutchison has not used it against him.

In short, all Perry needed to do was survive without any major blunders. He did so.

Hutchison -- The substance of her answers made sense, but the press corps has spent most of the last two days slamming her delivery. And much of it may be too late.

First, I give Hutchison credit for being much more straightforward on the abortion question than she was in the first debate. After being shown the video from the first debate, she gave a direct answer on what her position is on the issue -- a marked contrast to the prior debate. But anytime she has to talk about abortion, it may hurt her with GOP primary voters.

I think she scored points on the Texas Enterprise Fund issue. The rewriting of contracts and jobs goals is not politically helpful to Perry.

That said, there was one giant hole in Hutchison's presentation -- she has yet to lay out a solid alternative to the governor's plan on transportation. I think things would change at TxDOT if we had a new governor, but how? She hasn't ruled out toll roads or comprehensive development agreements. What would change in a Hutchison governorship.

Perry's comment at TxDOT gets audited regularly by the Legislature is substantially true. (Just go onto the state auditor's website and look at the number of audits conducted on that agency.) An audit of TxDOT isn't change, it's status quo.

What Perry has that Hutchison needs is a coherent theme for his campaign. Perry's theme is: Texas works. Washington doesn't. Hutchison needed to develop an over-arching theme for her candidacy last year, and she didn't have one at this debate.

Medina: At the first debate, Debra Medina established herself as a serious candidate. The press corps had low expectations and she wildly exceeded them.

At the second debate, the press corps had very high expectations, and she probably didn't live up to them. Medina's campaign issues were the usual themes she's stressed throughout the campaign. She did a credible job of discussing them at this debate.

The one item that hurt her is property taxes. By punting the exact structure of how to replace a property tax with a sales tax, it created a question in the voters' minds as to whether this idea is workable.

That said, I think the first debate put Debra Medina on the map, and while the second debate probably didn't move her forward, she didn't move that far back either.

That's my take on the debate. Feel free to give your opinions in the comment section.

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