Again in ’10? Maybe so. Maybe not. (Late Developments)
Is all of Texas celebrating the news that Rick Perry will seek another term as governor? Hardly. This is bad news for Texas, bad news for Texans, and bad news for the Republican party. Here is my question: Why is he running? Is there any impulse other than self-gratification? At the very least, the people of Texas deserve some indication of what he hopes to accomplish as governor for life. This announcement was an insult to the state. There was no gravitas to it. The episode captured what drives Perryphobes crazy. His ambition is without substance. It consists only of the desire to hold office and exercise power. Never mind that the question, “To what end?” has no answer, other than to reward his friends and draw pleasure from the misery of his critics. Some Hutchison supporters are already saying that this move is just another part of Perry’s strategy to avoid lame-duck status in 2009. His plan, they suggest, is to submit his proposals to the 81st Legislature and, if they are enacted, say that he has accomplished everything that he wanted to, and ride off into the sunset. There are two things wrong with this interpretation: (1) If all you want to do is avoid lame duck status, you can just play coy. You don’t have to announce for reelection, least of all in a haphazard manner. (2) Perry doesn’t work the Legislature and has never gotten engaged in a regular session, so he doesn’t end up with a lot of accomplishments. He announces some proposals in his State of the State speech at the beginning of the session. Then he disappears until mid-May, reemerges to make demands, and threaten vetoes if he doesn’t get his way. The Legislature gets in a tizzy, caves in on a few things, and goes home. The governor vetoes bills of members who got in his way and disappears again, until the cycle starts anew. What the governor really enjoys about his job is that he is the most powerful governor ever, because he runs state government, top to bottom, through his former staffers and allies whom he appoints to major boards. At this point in my writing, I received a call from a friendly intermediary with good contacts in the Perry camp. This was the message: (1) The governor did not intend for this to be a real announcement for reelection. He would not have announced his intentions in this way. (2) He isn’t prepared to run for reelection at the present time. He doesn’t have an agenda yet for the next legislative session. (3) His closest advisers are split on whether he should run again. (4) Please convey this to Burka before he starts hyperventilating. (Too late. EMS is on the way.) So I guess I am supposed to believe that this was an amateurish mistake by a supreme political pro. I’m not buying it. I remember that in 1998, when Perry was running against John Sharp for lieutenant governor, he told me, “I’m going to win because I’m more disciplined than he is.” And he was, and he did. Sharp blinked in the end game, taking a successful anti-Perry ad off the air, and Perry won. Rick Perry has built a career out of of being disciplined. He is a great campaigner because he knows how to follow a game plan and stay on message. He has also built a career out of getting into Kay Bailey Hutchison’s head. That’s what this was all about. Throw her off stride. Perry knows what the score is: He can’t win if she runs, so his only chance is to get in her head and drive her out of the race. I called Hutchison’s office immediately but the line was busy for around 20 minutes–and there are a lot of lines. When I did get through, I was told, not as an official statement, and not for attribution, that this “doesn’t affect anything,” that what the senator has said previously still goes, that she will make up her own mind independent of anything else. I have previously heard from Hutchison’s camp that the terrain is different in 2008 than it was in 2006, when she opted not to run. The political cycle is different (the election occurs in the middle of her term, not at the end of her term, as was the case in 2006); the strength of the incumbent is not what it used to be; and the Republican party, which has to confront a reviving Democratic party, is likely to look more favorably on her candidacy in 2010 than it did in 2006, when the spectre of a divisive primary fight threatened to weaken the winner. Now the party needs Hutchison’s star power. Hutchison’s office also issued an official statement, which I did not receive but am poaching from the Quorum Report: I am encouraged by the growing number of Texans asking me to return home to run for Governor to provide leadership for our state. It is too early to make an announcement about the 2010 race. Right now I remain committed to serving the people of Texas in the United States Senate and helping our Republican candidates win crucial elections this fall. The local news programs have been full of Perry’s announcement. The governor’s Web site does not refer to it at all. I have written previously that I don’t think that Perry can successfully face the voters again. His support is limited to the Republican base and isn’t even solid there, due to discontent over his hostility to the border fence, his support for the margins tax, and his unflinching advocacy for the Trans-Texas Corridor. And don’t forget his losing battle for mandatory HPV vaccinations. While I have not seen any recent polling, Hutchison has a history of polling better than Perry among every group of GOP primary voters, including strong pro-life voters. I believe Hutchison would defeat Perry in a GOP primary by at least 55-45, and I think that margin is slightly on the conservative side. Dewhurst wants to be governor, and he has done oppo research into Hutchison’s voting record, but he is too much of a Republican establishment member to mount a primary challenge against Perry or Hutchison, which party leaders (translation: the big donors) don’t want. If Hutchison gets into the governor’s race, I expect Dewhurst to run for reelection. Earlier this week, on a trip to Houston, I met with a prominent local Republican officeholder who told me that Hutchison will announce for governor in early June 2009. This is fourteen months, including a legislative session, in the future. How many other stunts like this will Perry pull in an effort to nudge Hutchison out of the race. Today’s announcement confirms what we have been hearing, and I have been writing, for several weeks: Perry wants to run again. But he can’t beat Hutchison–unless she doesn’t run. I don’t think he can beat a strong Democratic candidate either. The options for the D’s include Bill White, Paul Hobby, Lance Armstrong, and … ? I don’t include John Sharp here, although he was a first-rate public servant, because he has lost two statewide races, and I think he would run into trouble in a primary for having helped Perry develop and pass the business margins tax. If he wanted the nomination, Henry Cisneros would be a viable candidate (twenty years have passed since his youthful indiscretions), but, then or now, I have never seen any indication that he wanted it. Almost anyone on this list (I’m excluding Sharp) could beat Perry, but I don’t think any of them could beat Hutchison.