To: Senator Hutchison
From: Your political consultants
Re: 2006 Republican primary
OUR FIRM IS VERY EXCITED about the prospect of representing you in your upcoming race for … well, to be perfectly frank, that’s why we have taken this opportunity to write you. Now that we’ve signed up with your campaign, we sure would like to know exactly what office you will be campaigning for. The governorship? A third term in the Senate? The vice presidency in 2008? Can’t you give us just a little hint about what you plan to do? After all, the primary is less than a year away.
We’re not the only ones who want to know. All those ambitious pols down in Texas are twiddling their thumbs while you make up your mind. Not that you owe them anything; most of the statewide officials—except Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who may run for governor herself—have already endorsed Rick Perry. It’s a toss-up who’s more craven: Perry for asking them this early or them for doing it. Now you’re holding up their game of musical chairs, especially in the case of David Dewhurst, the lieutenant governor. He wants to succeed Perry in 2010, but if you beat Perry, he’s stuck in his current job for eight more years. So he might opt to run for your Senate seat, leaving his job open and touching off another mad scramble. Congressman Henry Bonilla, of San Antonio, has already said he’ll run for the Senate if you don’t. Strayhorn and Attorney General Greg Abbott would look at the lite gov’s office Dewhurst would be vacating, and railroad commissioner Michael Williams and Texas Supreme Court justice Harriet O’Neill are said to be interested in the AG’s job. Yes, all eyes are on you right now.
But that’s not necessarily a good thing. It may be the smart political play for you to keep your options open: Run for governor if Perry has a bad legislative session; run for reelection to the Senate if he has a good one. But you need to think about the message your coyness sends to the Republican primary electorate. You’ve been talking about running for governor for four years now. We’re worried that voters have already begun to doubt your commitment. They’ve heard a lot of talk, but they haven’t seen any evidence that you want to be governor badly enough to put your career on the line. And you haven’t told them why you want the job. Where’s the fire in the belly? Telling Texas Monthly, as you did last November, “We have some very basic issues that need addressing, and I don’t think they’re being addressed right now” is about as fiery as last week’s ashes.
Don’t think that the Perry people aren’t taking advantage of your hesitancy. They’re telling everybody that you’re not going to run. They say you don’t have the stomach for a tough race in which most of the Republican establishment will be against you. They say that politicians who are going to run, run and that politicians who aren’t going to run, talk. And they’re making some headway. A couple of months ago, most Republicans around the Capitol thought you would run. That consensus changed after your meeting with big Republican campaign contributors from El Paso, who told you that they were with Perry. According to newspaper reports, leaked by the Perry supporters, you lost your cool and lectured them. After that episode, our operatives in the Capitol began hearing a lot of folks express doubts about whether you would make the leap.
The reason people’s opinions changed is that the El Paso debacle called your political acumen into question. You’ve been around long enough to know that big contributors stick with the incumbent as long as the incumbent sticks with them. You can bet Perry knows it. He gave them tort reform, and now he’s working on property tax cuts. Everything he does is calculated to get himself reelected. Perry is a resourceful, relentless, ruthless campaigner. It’s what he does best. He is disciplined as only an Aggie can be disciplined. He looks great in a TV spot. He has defeated two Democratic opponents who many thought would beat him—Jim Hightower, for agriculture commissioner in 1990, and John Sharp, for lieutenant governor in 1998—and routed Tony Sanchez for governor in 2002 in a race that should have been closer. Remember the Perry TV ad that accused Sanchez of complicity in the murder of a drug enforcement agent? Get ready for round two. He will stop at nothing to paint you as a liberal pro-choice feminist: He’ll turn your position on abortion—that you’re for reasonable restrictions—against you. Even now his handlers are spreading the word about how you have voted for proposals offered by that paragon of California liberalism, Barbara Boxer; how you made nice with Hillary Clinton (they sent an e-mail to GOP leaders that included a video segment, taped by two Perry campaign workers, of Clinton saying, “Kay is my partner on so many important fronts”); how you voted against a Bush judicial appointee (they won’t mention that your reason was his Precambrian views on women’s issues, such as this doozy of a comment: “The concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.”) When the Perry campaign polled likely Republican primary voters and informed them of stories like these, the result was that your disapproval rate shot up and 72 percent of the respondents favored Perry.
That’s not all. They say that they have the base of the Republican party—the far right—locked up, and the base is the majority of the vote in the primary. They talk about how they are trying to duplicate the Bush campaign’s success last fall in registering new evangelical voters, hoping to add as many as 300,000 names to the rolls. They give the impression of being supremely confident that they are going to win.
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