Why has attendance lagged on the Hutchison announcement tour? For one thing, it’s summer, it’s hot, people aren’t paying attention to politics right now. For another, this campaign couldn’t draw a crowd if you gave them a box of crayons. But I think the biggest reason is that it’s an anticlimax. Her real announcement came last December. That was eight months ago, and after she made her intentions known, she disappeared from the radar screen. I don’t know what happened during those eight months, but I know what didn’t happen: her campaign strategists did not develop a message that can sell in a Republican primary. Single-shot criticisms are no substitute for a message.
Timing isn’t the only reason that this tour is an anticlimax. The other is that the race is hardly a race right now. The Perry campaign is a juggernaut, and the Hutchison campaign can’t get the engine started. The biggest thing she has going for her right now is that people aren’t paying attention.
It’s premature, at this stage, to call the race for Perry, and I’m not going to do it. But when I try to envision a winning strategy for Hutchison, I can’t get there. I don’t think her people are up to it. They have her attacking Perry at every turn. I think this is all wrong. There is only one way for Hutchison to win this race, and that is to enlarge the primary. But when your message is negative, you have the opposite effect: You suppress turnout. That’s Perry’s strategy, to attack her and keep the primary small. She is playing into his hands. And speaking of playing into Perry’s hands, why does she persist in criticizing his refusal to take unemployment insurance stimulus funds? Has the Hutchison campaign read the polls? Something like 7 out of 10 Republican primary voters AGREE with Perry. She’s on the other side, 3 out of 10. That’s a good average for a baseball player, but it stinks for a politician.
Hutchison doesn’t have to attack Perry. He’s been around forever. He is what he is: an ineffectual governor who is more interested in power than in policy. Anybody who pays the slightest attention to Texas politics knows what his negatives are. Her greatest asset is his lack of respect. What she has to do is provide Texans with a reason why she should be governor and with a vision for Texas. This race is quickly shaping up as a repeat of Richards vs. Bush. He had a message, she didn’t. She didn’t have any respect for him and kept waiting for him to prove that he was as dumb as she thought he was. He wasn’t. And neither is Rick Perry.