The answer is: No, no, and hell no. What is the upside of resigning? The only advantage is that it gives her more time to campaign in Texas. That is worth something. But the upside of staying is far greater. Perry set out to define the race as Texas (him) versus Washington (her). So far, it has worked. But the flow of events has presented Hutchison with an opportunity to separate herself from what is going on in D.C. When the August recess is over, the Senate will be taking up Obama’s two main policy initiatives, the cap-and-trade legislation and health care reform. As a U.S. senator, she can take the offensive against those bills every day. She can be on TV, on the nightly cable news shows. The moment that she resigns, she loses that platform.
The Perry camp will be challenging her conservative credentials in the campaign. This is the perfect opportunity for her to burnish those credentials, both with talk and with action. At the very least, she should stay in office until the last gavel falls. Furthermore, as long as she is a sitting senator, she can continue to raise money for her federal campaign account. That money can be transferred to her campaign account in Texas. And her continuing service means that Perry would not be able to appoint a successor to fill the vacancy. He can’t fill a vacancy that doesn’t exist. Why give him a chance to make news? If I were in her position, I would not resign until the filing deadline on January 4.
When I inquired of a KBH hand why she is so dead set on resigning, I got a strange answer: She is incapable of doing anything halfway, and if she stays in the Senate, she will not abandon her Senate duties—the implication being, I guess, that she would not feel right about campaigning. Ridiculous! Senators juggle campaigning and legislating all the time. John Kerry in ‘04 and John McCain in ‘08 did it while they were running for president. This is another case of the Hutchison camp catering to how she feels, rather than making a judgment based on strategic thinking.
While all of the focus has been on her resignation, the Hutchison camp has made some progress on the personnel front. The initial team she put together was completely outmanned, no match for Perry’s operation at all, especially after he upgraded by adding Rob Johnson from Dewhurst’s shop. Her new group has loads of experience in national politics. Terry Sullivan replaces Rick Wiley as campaign manager. He held the same position in Hutchison’s 2006 reelection campaign. The press release announcing the appointments says, “He is known as a hardball strategist in heated campaigns.” (Like Hutchison vs. Barbara Ann Radnofsky?) Jennifer Coxe-Baker, formerly the senior communications director for the Senate Republican Conference, will hold a similar title in the Hutchison operation. Jeff Sadosky, who has been communications director in Hutchison’s Senate office, will move to the campaign as press secretary and chief media spokesperson for the campaign. Joe Pounder, currently strategic communications director for House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, will serve as deputy communications director. “[H]e will oversee the campaign’s rapid response operation,” the release announcing the new appointments noted. Of Pounder, Politico wrote, “Few communications staffers on or off the Hill dominate inboxes the way [he] does.”
Politico also weighed in on Terry Sullivan’s relationship with Dallas-based media consultant Scott Howell:
Sullivan is close with KBH’s aggressive media consultants, Scott Howell, Heath Thompson, and Todd Harris. And given his Palmetto State Republican roots, he knows a thing or two about intra-party combat.
The Palmetto state, for those who do not keep up with state nicknames, is South Carolina, which is known for its hardball GOP primary politics, most notably the pivotal Bush-McCain fight of 2000, and for being the home of the late Lee Atwater, the godfather of modern negative campaigning. Thompson and Harris are consultants to the campaign but are not full-time.
Of course, the key person in any campaign is not a consultant, it’s the candidate. And it remains to be seen how Hutchison will perform. There are two huge holes in the Hutchison campaign so far. One is the absence of a message that will click with Republican primary voters. The other is her lack of knowledge of state issues. The one weakness of her new staff is that they can’t help with the second problem. Somebody with the Hutchison campaign needs to bring in knowledgeable legislators to brief her, as Karl Rove arranged when George W. Bush ran for governor. In any event, the personnel changes are the first sign in a long time that Hutchison understands the difficulties she faces and is prepared to address them.