Right Place, Right Time

An exquisite sense of timing—and a good deal of luck—has helped transform Rick Perry from an unknown Democratic state legislator into a swaggering Republican who’s spent more years in the Governor’s Mansion than anyone in Texas history. Is it enough to carry him past Kay Bailey Hutchison and all the way to the White House?

One year ago, I wrote a story about the upcoming Republican gubernatorial primary between Governor Rick Perry and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. At the time, Hutchison had recently announced her intention to form a committee to explore a race for governor, and her campaign had released a poll showing her 24 points ahead of Perry, 55 percent to 31 percent. The governor’s political career appeared to be in deep trouble. Among Hutchison supporters, 58 percent had a “very favorable” opinion of her. Only 30 percent of Perry supporters felt the same way about him. She led him in every geographical section of the state.

What a difference a year makes. Since then, their fortunes have gone in opposite directions. Perry has held a lead, typically in the low double digits, in almost every poll taken since early summer, and now it is Hutchison’s political career that is in peril: Her Senate term expires on January 1, 2013, and she has said she will not seek reelection. Meanwhile, Perry’s prospects have never been rosier. Just a year after it appeared that he was on the brink of his last race, he is poised to become one of the leaders of his party. His travel schedule, speaking engagements, and television appearances in recent months give every indication that he and his team of advisers are looking beyond Texas to national politics. If Perry defeats Hutchison in the March 2 Republican primary and goes on to win a third full term in November, he will immediately join the crowd of potential presidential aspirants in 2012—if he hasn’t done so already.

Throughout his career, Perry has always benefited from an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time, and once again, his luck seems to be working. The Republican field for 2012 is not deep. Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are the leftovers, Mark Sanford self-destructed,

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